Finnegan leads the way while hiking the trails at Hinckley Park in South Portland on Tuesday. In the background are Matt LaPointe of South Portland and his other dog, Augie. ShawnPatrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

No one needs to tell Kristi Brewer that Maine is experiencing an early and robust dog tick season.

“They’re the bane of my existence,” said Brewer, a Saco resident and the owner of two Welsh Corgis.

Brewer gets flea and tick treatment for her dogs and this year hired a yard service to spray around her house to try to control the arachnids. She and her friend Matt LaPointe of South Portland, who is “co-parenting” Finnegan and Augie, are diligent about checking the dogs for ticks, but they haven’t found a solution to keeping the dogs, and themselves, tick-free.

“It’s disgusting and it wakes me up at night and I’m a nurse,” she said.

While they are called dog ticks and are good at hiding in dog fur, they are just as apt to hitch a ride on humans and crawl to a suitable place to latch on for a blood meal. It’s not uncommon for people to find numerous ticks crawling on them after a walk through fields or forested trails in southern Maine.

“It’s keeping us from going and doing our normal activities,” Brewer said, and limiting the dogs’ outside activities is not a good option. “When they’re not active and tired, I have a tough life.”

It’s not just Brewer and her property that are overrun with dog ticks, experts said.

“So far, we are seeing just busting numbers of dog ticks” said Megan Porter, a public health educator for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Dog tick numbers are really high for this time of year. The peak usually comes three weeks to a month later,” said Griffin Dill, a tick expert with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service.

Augie, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, makes his way past tall grass on a trail at Hinckley Park in South Portland on Tuesday. Dog ticks, which are larger than deer ticks, can survive in fields and on lawns and don’t seem to be hit as hard by dry, warm weather. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

But deer tick numbers seem down a bit, suggesting one potential bright spot to this tick infestation. Dog ticks, also called wood ticks, can carry some diseases that they can transmit to humans, but they aren’t as dangerous in Maine as the smaller deer ticks, which often carry Lyme disease, a serious illness that can spread into an infected person’s joints, heart and nervous system.

In other parts of the country, dog ticks can carry a disease called Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, but Maine dog ticks don’t seem to carry the disease, Morgan said. Scientists aren’t sure why that is, she said, but people should to try to avoid bites from dog ticks as well as deer ticks.

Maine CDC numbers on tick-related emergency room visits show that they are running about the same as they were last year at this time with 101 in the most recent week, but the numbers for this year and last year at the same time were both well below previous years at the same time.

Experts are keeping an eye on the weather for clues on what the rest of the year holds for ticks.

Dill said deer ticks don’t fare well in dry, hot weather, like last year’s summer, when Lyme disease cases fell sharply from previous years. With this year starting off abnormally dry, he said, there’s hope this summer will be a repeat, with a lower-than-normal number of deer ticks and Lyme disease cases.

But dog ticks are hardier, and are showing up earlier than normal this year and sometimes in unexpected places, he said.

“They’re finding ticks where they don’t tend to be,” Dill said. “We’ve received calls from people of dog ticks crawling up the sides of houses and decks. We’re hoping this year the peak is just an early peak and not an extended one.”

Matt LaPointe of South Portland walks along a trail in Hinckley Park in South Portland along with his dogs Finnegan, left, and Augie on Tuesday. LaPointe says he often has to pick ticks off the two after a hike. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Dog ticks, which are larger than deer ticks, can survive in fields and on lawns and don’t seem to be hit as hard by dry, warm weather, he said, while deer ticks prefer cooler, shady areas.

Morgan said a key time for deer ticks, and prime time for Lyme disease, is right around the corner. She said deer tick nymphs tend to emerge in June and July and look for hosts to feed on. The tiny nymphs are hard to spot but are responsible for much of the spread of Lyme disease, she said.

Morgan said it’s essential for people headed out to the woods or fields to protect against ticks. Some steps include wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants that are tucked into socks, she said, and checking frequently for ticks.

Popular repellents, which have the added benefit of warding off mosquitoes, include those with DEET, picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus, she said, and repellents with permethrin are useful for spraying on clothes. She said permethrin also persists through several washings, so would be a good choice for frequently used gardening or hiking clothes, she said.

Any ticks found on clothing should be removed quickly, she said, and if the tick has already bitten, it can be pulled out with tweezers or tick spoons. Those are sold in many outdoors stores and are plastic spoons with a notch in the end for grasping the tick. The removed tick falls into the bowl of the spoon so it can be retained for testing.

She said people should try to make sure to pull the head out when removing the tick,  but if that proves impossible, she said to treat the area around the bite with antibiotics and the human body will usually push the tick’s head out. It’s more important to avoid grabbing the middle of the tick’s body and squeezing because  pathogens are in the tick’s body and could then enter the human body through the wound caused by the bite.

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