MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Health officials are urging West Virginians to be vigilant for ticks and protect themselves from the threat of Lyme disease as scientists warn that insect populations could swell after the warm, mild winter.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting said symptoms of Lyme disease typically show within three to 30 days of a tick bite. They include fever and an expanding, circular red rash around the bite.
If not treated early with antibiotics, Lyme disease can lead to long-term, recurrent arthritis and neurological problems.
Public health entomologist Eric Dotseth said the black-legged tick -- previously known as the deer tick -- is tiny and hard to find. He suggests people thoroughly examine themselves and their pets if they're venturing into areas with thick undergrowth and wear light-colored clothing to make the bugs easier to spot.
Ticks can attach to any part of the human body, including hard-to-see areas such as the groin, armpits and scalp.
"They are cueing in on things like heat, carbon dioxide, motion, sweat - all of these things that suggest a living, breathing, vertebrate host," he said. "You'll even see them sometimes on the vegetation. They'll be wiggling their legs around like little antennae, searching. Then what they do when they find that vertebrate host, they will latch on."
Ticks typically must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before the disease can be transmitted.
Doctors say they should be removed carefully, with tweezers and by the head.
"Do not, under any circumstances, burn the tick while it's touching you, or put Vaseline or another chemical on the tick to get it to drop off," said Dr. Erika Pallie of Morgantown.
Pallie also suggests keeping lawns cut short and says guinea hens and chickens can help control bugs. Spraying clothing with insecticides also can help.