Just like during other times this summer, it’s not only a good time to celebrate our country, but also to watch out for ticks.
Ticks can attach themselves to you or your pets to feed on blood. If they remain attached for at least 36 hours, they can transmit diseases to the host. Those types of diseases depend on the kind of tick that attaches. Common ticks in West Virginia and the diseases they spread are the black-legged or deer tick, Lyme disease; the lone star tick, ehrlichiosis; and the American dog tick, Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Although Lyme disease has received a lot of attention in recent years, the American dog tick is the most common of these parasites in the Mountain State. Luckily, ways to avoid all ticks are the same, and taking some simple precautions can relieve you and your family later on of some headaches—literally, as that is one of the symptoms of tick-borne illness.
We should always watch out for ticks, especially when the weather gets warm and we are spending more time outdoors. However, this is the time of summer to really be on your guard. That’s because mid-June to early July is the peak time for “questing” nymph ticks, which are juvenile ticks out looking for blood. This is also when Monongalia County Health Department sees a peak in new cases of Lyme disease.
And while we will be offering tips on how to get rid of ticks when you, your family and your pets return from the outdoors, it’s better to try to prevent encountering them in the first place rather than assume that you will be able to see and remove these tiny, poppy seed-sized juvenile ticks.
So here is some advice to consider when deciding where to go this summer, how to avoid ticks if you do venture into their territory and what you can do when you return home to try and make sure ticks have been avoided.
Before you go outdoors: Know where to look for ticks and avoid those areas when possible. Ticks live in grassy, wooded areas or even on animals. Avoid areas with tall grass. Walk in the center of trails. Wear protective clothing and treat them with .5% permethrin, a type of insecticide.
Permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing and camping gear and it remains protective through several washings. You also can spray your yard with a pesticide to help keep ticks away.
When you return home, remember to check yourself, your children, your pets and your gear for ticks. Check under arms, in and around ears, belly button, behind knees, in hair, between legs and around the waist. Shower soon after returning from the outdoors and tumble dry clothes for at least 10 minutes to kill any ticks.
If you find a tick on you or a family member, here are tips on how to remove it:
• Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
• Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
• After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
• Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape or flushing it down the toilet.
A tick bite can create a rash with a bull’s-eye pattern. Other symptoms of a tick-borne illness are more vague and include headache, fatigue and muscle aches. With Lyme disease, you may also experience joint pain. The severity and timing of onset of these symptoms can depend on the disease and the patient's personal tolerance level. Because symptoms are vague and there is no definitive test, a doctor might ask if you’ve been outdoors when trying to diagnose a tick-borne illness.
There is a cure—antibiotics. The sooner a patient begins a course of treatment, the faster and more complete recovery will be.
With a few simple preventative measures, however, you hopefully will not need to worry about getting sick from ticks, allowing you to enjoy the rest of the summer.