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Monday, April 27, 2015 9:36 pm

Tick Season…A Watchful Eye Can Prevent Lyme and Other Disease

Spring… A time to embrace the great outdoors!

The first few weeks of Spring often seem a blur as we scramble to rework our schedules to accommodate the sudden burst of outdoor activities.

  • Sports practices, meets, and games
  • Yard cleaning, pruning and planting
  • Exercising, exploring, and sight-seeing

Spring is an invigorating time of year. With so much that is new and exciting, it is no wonder so many of us get lost in the moment and momentarily forget that it is also Tick Season.

Ticks… stealth opportunists of the great outdoors.

Ticks are small arachnids belonging to the order Parasitiformes. They are ectoparasites which means that they survive by feeding on the blood of mammals, birds, and sometimes other creatures.

The wood tick or American dog tick is responsible for transmission of the rickettsial illness, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a serious and potentially life-threatening disease. RMSF can be found widely in the United States, Canada, Central America and in parts of South America.

The blacklegged tick or deer tick is also known to carry pathogens which cause serious illness in humans. The three most common blacklegged tick-borne infectious diseases are: Lyme Disease, Babesiosis, and Anaplasmosis. While Lyme Disease is prevalent throughout the United States, Babesiosis and Anaplasmosis are also found with increasing frequency in certain regions.

Looking out for your health (Photo credit: Kathleen Kvilhaug)

Looking out for your health (Photo credit: Kathleen Kvilhaug)

Where the ticks are…

Ticks are largely found in wooded areas, and along the perimeter of wooded areas clinging to brush and grass. However, ticks can drop off larger animals anywhere in the lawn and be carried by pets and people into the house.

The deer tick “nymph” or immature tick, feeds most actively in the spring and summer months. The deer tick nymph, which is about as large as a poppy seed, is primarily responsible for the majority of human infection with Lyme Disease, Babesiosis, and Anaplasmosis.

Due to its small size, the deer tick nymph may easily remain attached to the host for the 36 to 48 hours necessary for successful transmission of disease. Although ticks can attach nearly anywhere on the human body, they are most likely to be found in out of the way places such as behind the ears, in the groin, armpits and scalp.

People who spend time in heavily wooded areas are at greatest risk for encountering ticks and contracting a tick-borne illness. But as you can see, we are all at risk and it is wise to be vigilant during tick season.

What to look for…

Initial signs and symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever:

  • sudden onset of fever, headache, muscle pain
  • followed within 6 days of fever by red spotted rash beginning on palms and soles, continuing toward trunk

Initial signs and symptoms of Lyme Disease:

  • Within 3 to 30 days, signs of rash may appear at the site of the bite in 70-80% of infected persons¹
  • Red, expanding rash called erythema migrans (EM) or “Bull’s-Eye” rash
  • Fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes

Initial signs and symptoms of Babesiosis:

  • Babesia infection can range from asymptomatic (lacking symptoms) to life-threatening.
  • Flu-like symptoms: fever, chills, sweats, headache, body aches, nausea, fatigue

Initial signs and symptoms of Anaplasmosis:

  • Anaplasmosis is a serious illness that can be fatal if not treated correctly
  • Within 1 to 2 weeks: fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, nausea, cough, confusion

Prevention is the best course of action!

  • Avoid tick-infested areas when possible
  • Walk in the center of trails, avoid hanging leaves, branches and tall grasses
  • Wear light colored, long sleeved, long legged clothing and socks
  • Tuck pant legs into socks to prevent ticks from crawling inside
  • Use sprays containing DEET (N,N-diethylmetatoluamide) on skin and clothing to repel ticks
  • Use permethrin sprays on clothing, boots, backpacks (NOT skin) to kill ticks
  • Check body thoroughly for ticks using a mirror (check between toes, behind knees/ears, in groin area/armpits, scalp)
  • Observe for signs and symptoms of tick-borne illness throughout the season

Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you develop signs and symptoms of tick-borne illness. Proper treatment with antibiotics to eradicate the pathogen and other medications to relieve symptoms may be required. Your Pharmacist is available to answer questions and address concerns.

 References:

¹Correspondence. The Presenting Manifestations of Lyme Disease and the Outcomes of Treatment. N Engl J Med 2003; 348:2472-2474, June 12, 2003.