It’s not your typical tick season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that 2017 will be one of the worst we’ve had in years. In June, Missouri health officials launched a study to trap and test ticks for diseases based on the increase in tick-borne illnesses already reported this year, including a Missouri woman who tested positive for the Bourbon virus. This is only the fifth case to ever be documented in the United States and the first in Missouri.
There are a two major reasons for this increase of ticks this year. One is because the northeastern part of the country had a mild winter, leading to better survival rates for ticks. Also, last year, the population of mice surged. An increase in mice population can be directly correlated to an increased number of Lyme cases, a disease mice carry that ticks spread.
Compared to all other insects, ticks are responsible for more human disease than any others in the United States. These pesky critters are highly effective in transmitting disease due to their indiscriminate tastes. They feed from a variety of sources included mammals small and large as well as birds and reptiles. Ticks can pick up diseases from a variety of creatures and transmit that them to us.
Fortunately, of all the different species of ticks, only seven of them bite and transmit disease. Unfortunately, Missouri is home to five of the seven. The Show-Me State sees a substantial number of tick-borne illnesses each year, specifically Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia, Q-fever, Lyme or a lyme-like disease and the southern tick-associated rash illness. So, with the increase in tick-borne illnesses reported this year, it’s good to know how to reduce your chance of a bite.
How to prevent tick-borne illness:
• Use an insect repellent that contains at least 20 percent DEET. It interferes with a ticks’ ability to locate you. The American Academy of Pediatrics and CDC recommends use of insect repellent containing up to 30 percent DEET for infants over 2 months of age. DEET should not be used on children younger than 2 months of age.
• Spray clothing and gear with a repellent called permethrin and let dry. It will remain effective multiple washings. Do not use permethrin on skin.
• Stick to the center of trails and avoid overhanging brush and tall grass. Ticks like to perch on the edge of grass and low brush waiting for a suitable host to brush by.
• Wear light color clothing to better spot a tick that may be trying to hitch a ride.
• Consider long sleeves, tucking in your shirt, and taping pant legs into socks to help prevent ticks from reaching your skin.
• Keep the lawn mowed and vegetation low to decrease tick attraction to your yard.
• Ticks are found most commonly on the head, neck, underarms and groin, so be sure to carefully inspect yourself if you’ve spent time in tick-infested areas. Showering can make locating ticks easier and a washcloth can dislodge any not attached.
• If a tick is found, clean the area around the tick, and remove it promptly with tweezers or commercial tick removing tools. After removal, disinfect skin to prevent infection.
If you do get bit, it’s valuable to recognize the signs and symptoms of a tick-borne illness quickly. While symptoms vary based on the specific illness, there some signals you can spot:
• High fever, shaking, chills
• Severe headache
• Muscle or joint aches
• Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
• Rash or pus-filled wound at the site of a tick bite
In general, it is recommended to consult your healthcare provider if any of the above symptoms occur. What I’d like to emphasize is if any occur after a tick-bite, or even after being in a tick-infested habitat, be sure to mention that fact. Many tick-borne illnesses can be confused with different conditions.
Finally, if you find or remove a tick, don’t crush it as its blood can be dangerous. Also, don’t throw it in the trash or flush it down the toilet as ticks are resilient little critters. Instead, put it in a jar and drown it with alcohol. That way, you can safely kill it and if you do get sick you’ll have it for testing.
Stay safe this tick season. It will be one for the books.
-- Stephanie Hutchison is a Nurse Practitioner with Oak Grove Medical Clinic and can be reached at 816-690-6566.