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St. Louis County wants your help to identify ticks in the area

An adult deer tick. A bite from one can lead to Lyme disease.
National Park Service
An adult deer tick. A bite from one can lead to Lyme disease.

The hot weather that summer has brought to the St. Louis region means more tick activity, especially in outdoor spaces.

St. Louis County wants help from residents to better understand the resident tick populations and the potential pathogens they may carry.

The county has set up collection boxes for ticks at three parks: Lone Elk, Greensfelder and West Tyson.

“With the increased prevalence in tick-borne virus and disease in general, the potential introduction of invasive species of ticks, we’ve decided it would be a good idea to survey the St. Louis area,” said James Sayers, environmental manager for St. Louis County’s vector-borne disease prevention program.

He said the county has dedicated staff surveying for ticks in more public places, but help from residents is vital too.

“The citizen science aspect really helps us to gather more data faster,” Sayers said. “There’s places that residents can get to that we don’t.”

The boxes, located near the visitors centers at Lone Elk and Greensfelder parks and at the prairie entrance at West Tyson Park, will be collected daily, Sayers said.

Visitors can deposit ticks they find in an envelope along with a completed form that collects information on when and where the tick was found, what habitat it may have come from and if it was crawling around or embedded, he added.

The county also has instructions for how to send in ticks if the boxes aren’t convenient.

He explained the county wants to establish a baseline for the region and know if any new species have arrived.

“We actually have found Gulf Coast ticks in St. Louis County, which in the past, they were not normally found here,” Sayers said. “It’s not a matter of if but when we start seeing the Asian longhorns, which are also very capable of transmitting pathogens to humans.”

Ticks can cause bacterial infections and even a condition that can make people allergic to red meat, he said.

The insects are active anytime the temperature is above freezing but are especially active when it’s hot and humid, Sayers said. And they’re adept at getting onto people or animals when looking for a blood meal, he added.

“They’ll kind of crawl up to the top of a piece of brush, or a twig, or a stick and they’ll just hang there and hold their front arms out waiting for something to come by and then they can hitch a ride,” he said.

People can prevent ticks from getting on them by using bug spray with at least 25% DEET or wearing clothing treated with permethrin, Sayers said.

“The best means of protection is prevention,” he added.

After a hike or other activities outdoors, Sayers recommends checking for ticks in armpits, around the groin and waistline, and other tight places. And if bitten, he said the best way to remove a tick is by using fine-tipped tweezers to firmly grip the insect before pulling it out.

“Grasp it as close to the skin as you can and pull it straight out quickly,” Sayers said.

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.