Kansans may be pulling more ticks off themselves, their children and their pets earlier than usual because of the weather.
"It's not unusual to have ticks in Kansas," said Matthew McKernan, an ornamental horticulture agent for Sedgwick County. "What is unusual is our weather pattern this spring. We went from a late cold to a hot summer-like weather."
That drastic weather change combined with recent rainfall has led to a quick profusion of plant growth, K-State Research and Extension said in a release. Those plants provide the perfect habitat for ticks.
"In my experience this is the earliest we’ve had tick issues," said Raymond Cloyd, a Kansas State University entomology professor, in the release.
While it is not known if there are more ticks than usual, the number of tick-borne illnesses are on the rise, both nationally and in Kansas.
Nationwide, the number of reported tick-borne diseases more than doubled in the past 13 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported earlier this month.
In Kansas, the number increased nearly 40 percent last year, according to Kansas Department of Health and Environment data.
After 245 reported cases of tick-borne illness in the state in 2016, the number grew to 339 in 2017. The count includes cases that met confirmed and probable case definitions of Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia and ehrlichiosis.
The increase last year came after a mild 2015-16 winter that gave ticks an opportunity "to emerge early increasing the risk of acquiring tick-borne diseases," the KDHE said in a March newsletter.
There were 257 reported cases in 2015 and 212 the year before. Ten cases have been reported so far this year.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever accounted for much of the increase last year and nearly two-thirds of all reported tick-borne diseases in Kansas, which is good news for people who eat red meat.
The CDC reports the lone star tick, whose bites may make you allergic to red meat, transmits tularemia and ehrlichiosis — not Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Cases of those two diseases decreased in the past two years.
One Wichita area woman became allergic to red meat five years ago after a bite from a lone star tick. The condition is a reaction to the blood of non-primates transmitted to humans through tick bites.
There were 39 cases of Lyme disease in Kansas last year, the KDHE reported.
McKernan, who said he has had several ticks crawl up his pant legs so far this spring, said the Sedgwick County extension office has been getting "quite a few questions in recent weeks" about ticks.
The best way to keep ticks off your property is to keep your lawn mowed and reduce unmanaged areas where weeds can flourish, the K-State Research and Extension release said.
"Ticks are slow-crawling, wingless animals," McKernan said. "They really attack people, pets, animals with an ambush-type technique where they crawl up on grass or brush. . . . Ticks themselves are generally never more than a few inches off the ground."
Chemical pesticides should only be used in areas with chronic tick problems, K-State Research and Extension advises.
Avoiding weedy areas can help keep ticks off of you, but McKernan said the easiest and most effective way is to use insect repellent. Wearing light-colored clothing can help you see the dark-colored ticks and get them off before they reach your skin.
If a tick does make it to your skin, remove it immediately to reduce the chances of it transmitting any diseases it may be carrying, he said. You can save the tick and take it with you to the doctor if you have a bad reaction to the bite to help with diagnosing potential illnesses.
"Gently pull it out with tweezers, including the head," the release said. "A tick head broken off and left in the skin can potentially lead to an infection."
Dogs and cats that spend time outdoors should be treated with flea and tick control medicine.
And if you see a possum, you may want to invite it to your yard for a night. They can kill about 5,000 ticks in one season, according to the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y.