The Herald-News

Ticks season is here and they are on the rise in northern Illinois

Once fairly uncommon in the Midwest, several varieties of ticks are becoming more prevalent and problematic for residents.

Because of changes in the weather and climate, ticks are “changing and increasing” their geographical range, said Sulagna Chakraborty, a postdoctoral research associate in the department of veterinary clinical medicine at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

With their increased presence comes the potential for unwanted diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis and babesiosis.

Individuals who are outside more frequently have a higher risk of being bitten, Chakraborty said.

“It is crazy how something that was never thought of 40 years ago is now everywhere,” she said.

In addition, the spikes in the weather “even just several days” in the winter may activate ticks who will look for a host to feed on.

“No matter what season you are outside,” Chakraborty said, there is a potential for a tick bite.

“If a human is out there or an animal, the tick will feed,” Chakraborty said. “We have to be vigilant year-round when we go outdoors where ticks are known to be.”

Tick-borne illnesses

In the past 10 years, the number of reported tick-borne diseases has increased because of several factors.

People, including those in the medical field, are more aware of tick-borne illnesses and the signs to look for, Chakraborty said.

In addition, Chakraborty said, more people are reporting tick bites.

“Lyme disease comes from a deer tick or the Western black-legged tick, and the characteristic bull’s-eye rash would appear,” she said.

Chakraborty said that, today, however, “there are other tick-borne illnesses that may not have such clear symptoms.”

She said that if people have been outdoors in a natural area and did not find a tick on themselves but later experience an unexplained fever or other symptoms, it is good to get it checked out.

In addition, she said, more people are aware that they could get tick bites from cats, dogs and livestock animals.

Because there are so many different tick-borne illnesses, Chakraborty said, “one vaccine is not going to work for all illnesses.”

“There are tick-borne illnesses that affect humans or animals or both,” she said. “The mechanism behind how they are transmitted could be bacteria or a virus, so it is very hard to come up with a single vaccine.”

New research from a multi-department team of university scientists explored the role Illinois Extension has in educating communities about ticks and preventing risky encounters.

In addition, Chakraborty said, “there may be ticks that don’t carry any pathogens. However, ticks can also carry several types of pathogens. Depending on how long the tick is attached to a person it could have transmitted multiple pathogens, but these are not that common in the Midwest in comparison to the East Coast.”

Prevention for humans, animals

Chakraborty recently worked on two studies related to learning about tick exposure and awareness among agriculture workers and University of Illinois Extension staff.

From the first study, they learned “that some farmers were aware of tick- and tick-borne diseases.”

However, they weren’t taking as many preventive measures to protect themselves as they were for their pets and livestock animals, she said.

The second study assessed Extension staff and volunteer knowledge and practices both before and after providing training on tick identification, diseases and prevention.

Ultimately, because of their role in the community, Chakraborty said, “We wanted to give them the tools and resources they need to go and talk to people about how they can protect themselves and their animals.”

As a result, they developed online training on ticks and tick-borne illnesses that is available to the public at

When heading outside, Chakraborty suggested, individuals should wear tick repellent and spray clothes and gear with permethrin, a product that repels ticks.

If you are out on a trail, she said, “stay to the middle of the trail rather than in the tall grass, which is a common place for deer ticks looking for a host.”

And after being outside, individuals should check themselves from head to toe.

In addition, Chakraborty said, outdoor enthusiasts should take a shower, wash their clothes and put them in the dryer on high.

“Check your animals after taking them outdoors,” she said.

In addition, pet owners should talk with their vet about tick medicine for their dogs and cats.

Types of ticks

There are two groups of ticks, sometimes called the “hard” ticks and “soft” ticks, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Hard ticks, like the common dog tick, have a hard shield just behind the mouthparts (sometimes incorrectly called the “head”); unfed hard ticks are shaped like a flat seed.

Soft ticks do not have the hard shield, and they are shaped like a large raisin, according to the IDPH. Soft ticks prefer to feed on birds or bats and are seldom encountered unless these animals are nesting or roosting in an occupied building.

Although at least 15 species of ticks occur in Illinois, only a few are likely to be encountered by people: the American dog tick, lone star tick, black-legged (deer) tick, brown dog tick and winter tick.

For a complete list, visit