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Wet Weather Boosts Tick Population

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Abundant rainfall has increased the population of ticks in Oklahoma this year, meaning more people are likely to catch diseases from the bloodsucking insect. In 2006, widespread drought and wildfires kept the tick population at one of the lowest levels in recent years, but this year more ticks are showing up in central and south-central Oklahoma, said Justin Talley, a livestock entomologist at Oklahoma State University.

``Basically, with the continued moisture, it's inevitable that we're going to have more ticks,'' Talley said.

Ticks are second only to mosquitoes when it comes to spreading disease to humans. Species known to be disease carriers seem to be faring well this year, Talley said. One, the American dog tick, is doing especially well in the state's central parts. Another, the Lone Star tick, seems to be evenly distributed across Oklahoma, Talley said. Those ticks are dangerous because of their lifestyle, which often begins on the backs of small rodents. As ticks grow, they seek larger animals such as raccoons and opossums. Later, they seek larger animals such as dogs, deer and humans. Ticks are at that life stage about now, Talley said.

Some tick-borne illnesses, especially Rocky Mountain spotted fever, are more common in Oklahoma than in other states, while others, especially Lyme disease, are much less common, said Laurence Burnsed, director of the state Health Department's communicable disease division.

Between 2000 and 2005, the number of reported cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever rose from fewer than 40 to more than 200, according to department statistics. In 2006, the number of reported cases dropped for the first time since 1999 with only 133 reported. Although it is too early to tell whether the number of reported cases will rise this year, Burnsed said the rise in tick population doesn't bode well. The disease typically peaks in June.
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