Ticks in Charlottesville

Ticks in Charlottesville

And now on to everyone’s favorite topic of conversation this time of year – ticks! 

According to a recent NBC 29 report, tick experts believe the 2018 season could be the worst in years. That’s because a relatively mild winter helped the tick population.

Warmer weather – especially from April to September – means that ticks will soon become more active, increasing the chance of having a tick bite if you spend time in certain outdoor areas. Ticks can carry different kinds of diseases, so you should be aware of how to protect yourself from bites and what symptoms to watch for if you have been bitten.

Although many experts suggest wearing long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and hats, it is not often considered practical to dress like a polar vortex is bearing down when the temps can reach into the 100s here in the summer.

But there are some good ways to be prepared for symptoms of severe tick bites and remain vigilant about checking for ticks if you are walking through areas with high grass or lots of vegetation. 

A good plan of action is to also start avoiding standing underneath certain pine trees as they are tick nurseries in May and June and baby ticks drop out of the branches and on to the heads of unsuspecting passersby.

UVA Health System Info

In 2006, Virginia health officials reported 357 cases of Lyme disease to the CDC. In 2016, they reported 976 confirmed cases and another 374 probable cases. And the CDC warns that these numbers don’t reflect every diagnosed case. It estimates that around 300,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Lyme disease every year.

The increase may be due to the bacterium that causes Lyme disease becoming more common in wild mammals and ticks, and when those wild mammals, like deer, live near humans, the disease spreads easily.

The tick-borne diseases that occur most often in Virginia are Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Ehrlichiosis, according to the Henrico County website.

 Lyme Disease

The blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis), formerly known as the deer tick, is the only carrier of Lyme disease in the Eastern U.S. An infected tick must be attached to a human for 36 hours or more to transmit Lyme disease.

Most patients (about 75%) will see the development of a red rash called an erythema migrans (“EM” or “bull’s-eye” rash) around a tick bite site within days or weeks of the tick bite.  This rash expands (up to 12 inches in diameter) and often clears around the center. The rash does not itch or hurt, so it may not be noticed if it is on a person’s back-side or scalp.

The initial illness may cause fatigue, fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and swollen lymph nodes. When Lyme disease is detected early and treated with an appropriate antibiotic (e.g., doxycycline), it is easily cured.

This may reduce the risk of contracting Lyme disease if taken within 72 hours after a tick bite. However, this antibiotic can have serious side effects in children less than 8 years old. This prevention step is only used in people older than 8 years.

After four weeks of Lyme disease, your body may create antibodies against the infection. Your doctor may look for these antibodies with a blood test. The blood test cannot confirm or rule out Lyme disease. Instead, the results of the blood test will be used in combination with your symptoms and personal history to make a diagnosis.

 

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)

RMSF is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected American dog tick. The infected tick must be attached to a human for only about four hours to transmit the bacteria.

RMSF is characterized by a sudden onset of moderate to high fever (which can last for 2 or 3 weeks), severe headache, fatigue, deep muscle pain, chills and rash.

The rash begins on the legs or arms, may include the soles of the feet or palms of the hands and may spread rapidly to the trunk or rest of the body.

Certain antibiotics such as tetracycline or chloramphenicol may be effective in treating the disease. RMSF can be fatal, so if you are concerned about symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

 

Ehrlichiosis

Ehrilchiosis is transmitted by the Lone Star Tick and most commonly by adult Lone Star Ticks. An infected tick must be attached to a human for at least 24 hours to transmit disease.

Symptoms can include fever, headache, muscle pain, vomiting, and general discomfort.

Illness can be severe and up to 3% of infected people can die if not treated.

Treatment will be determined based on symptoms, but ehrlichiosis responds rapidly to antibiotics.

 

How to prepare

If you live or are visiting northeastern, northwestern, mid-Atlantic or upper north-central regions of the U.S. and northwestern California, avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter, and walk in the center of trails. 

Wear light-colored clothing with a tight weave to spot ticks easily. Wear enclosed shoes.

Use repellents that contain 20 to 30% DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on exposed skin and clothing for protection that lasts up to several hours. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth.

Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat 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 at http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect/.

Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.

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.

Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs.

Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks. (Some research suggests that shorter drying times may also be effective, particularly if the clothing is not wet.)

To remove a tick

Use a pair of tweezers to grasp the tick by the head, as close to the skin as possible. Pull directly outward. Use gentle but firm force. Do not twist the tick out. Try not to crush the tick’s body or handle it with bare fingers. This can spread the infection. Wipe the site with an antiseptic to prevent infection.

Steps that do not help. They may cause more problems.

Do not put a hot match to the tick.

Do not cover the tick with petroleum jelly, nail polish, or any other substances.

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