Tick Season is Upon Us: What You Should Know

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If you live in the yellow area, you live in tickville –

Under the Microscope

By Glynn Wilson

This may sound like a good line for a blues song, but it’s not the good kind of blues sung by the likes of B.B. King.

I woke up this morning with a tick on my ear.
Put the bugger in a jar with alcohol.
Sprayed the dog with citrus juice.
And applied the Frontline to his back.

True story.

Tick season is upon us. So I thought I would share some news you can use, as the saying goes these days.

Did you know that ticks are arachnids, relatives of spiders?

It’s also the beginning of spider season, so watch out for the dangerous kind.

Ticks live in wooded areas, brushy fields and around suburban houses. If you have dogs or cats, watch out.

Ticks survive by drinking blood from their hosts. As such, they are the vampires of the insect world.

The real bad news is, ticks can pass infections from one host to the next, including humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency recommends these steps to avoid problems during tick season.

“While it is a good idea to take preventive measures against ticks year-round, be extra vigilant in warmer months (April-September) when ticks are most active,” the agency says on the Web.

To avoid direct contact with ticks, the agency says, “avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.” For people who love the outdoors, this is hard to do.

For avid hikers, the agency recommends walking in the center of trails to avoid brushing up against vegetation where ticks may hide. Apparently, the little buggers like to drop on people and pets from pine trees. It’s kind of hard to avoid pine trees in the South, but at least people can be aware of the risks.

The agency also recommends repelling ticks with insect repellents that contain 20 percent or more of DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on the exposed skin for protection that lasts up to several hours, although DEET is a suspected carcinogen, so follow product instructions carefully and avoid hands, eyes and the mouth.

The agency also recommends using products that contain permethrin on clothing and gear such as boots, pants, socks and tents. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and remains protective for up to 70 washings.

Other repellents registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may be found online here.

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For the past year, since I adopted the Springer Spaniel Jefferson, I have tried to use the advice of the Tick Management Handbook to “regularly remove leaf litter and clear tall grasses and brush around homes, and place wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to keep ticks away from recreational areas, and keep play areas and playground equipment away from away from shrubs, bushes, and other vegetation.”

Last year, I also tried using a natural garlic spray called Mosquito Barrier to cover the yard. It’s time to order some more.

I have learned that ticks also don’t like the smell of citrus fruit, so pet sprays made for odor might also prevent ticks from staying on them. This might be safer than using DEET.

To find ticks and make sure they are not on your body, the agency recommends bathing or showering as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you. It is recommended that people conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas.

Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and especially in their hair.

It is also recommended that people examine pets and all gear. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.

The most dangerous thing that can occur from a tick bite is Lyme disease, although there is also the southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), ehrlichiosis, and tularemia that can result in distinctive rashes. Common symptoms of tick-related illnesses are a fever and/or chills, aches and pains, headaches, fatigue, muscle aches and joint pains. With all tickborne diseases, patients can experience fever at varying degrees and time of onset. The severity and time of onset of these symptoms can depend on the disease and the patient’s personal tolerance level.

With Lyme disease, the rash may appear within 3-30 days, typically before the onset of fever. The Lyme disease rash is the first sign of infection and is usually a circular rash called erythema migrans or EM. This rash occurs in approximately 70-80 percent of infected persons and begins at the site of a tick bite. It may be warm, but is not usually painful. Some patients develop additional EM lesions in other areas of the body several days later.

The rash of (STARI) is nearly identical to that of Lyme disease, with a red, expanding “bulls eye” lesion that develops around the site of a lone star tick bite. Unlike Lyme disease, STARI has not been linked to any arthritic or neurologic symptoms.

The rash seen with Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) varies greatly from person to person in appearance, location, and time of onset. About 10 percent of people with RMSF never develop a rash. Most often, the rash begins 2-5 days after the onset of fever as small, flat, pink, non-itchy spots (macules) on the wrists, forearms, and ankles and spreads to the trunk. It sometimes involves the palms and soles. The red to purple, spotted (petechial) rash of RMSF is usually not seen until the sixth day or later after onset of symptoms and occurs in 35-60 percent of patients with the infection.

In the most common form of tularemia, a skin ulcer appears at the site where the organism entered the body. The ulcer is accompanied by swelling of regional lymph glands, usually in the armpit or groin.

In about 30 percent of patients (and up to 60 percent of children), ehrlichiosis can cause a rash. The appearance of the rash ranges from macular to maculopapular to petechial, and may appear after the onset of fever.

Tickborne diseases can result in mild symptoms treatable at home to severe infections requiring hospitalization. Although easily treated with antibiotics, these diseases can be difficult for physicians to diagnose. However, early recognition and treatment of the infection decreases the risk of serious complications. See a doctor immediately if you have been bitten by a tick and experience any of the symptoms described here.

Stay safe out there in the woods. I would rather go camping in the winter time anyway. It’s cooler. There are fewer bugs to worry about. And the fire is more cozy. See you on the trail next year.

© 2013 – 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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