Every year,the coming of spring brings warmer weather, longer days … and ticks!
In Virginia, the most common health problem caused by ticks is Lyme disease, but you can also get Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis from tick bites. Deer ticks, also known as black-legged ticks, spread Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis. Dog ticks and lone star ticks spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) and ehrlichiosis. All three tick-borne diseases, which can be treated with antibiotics, cause flu-like symptoms such as aching muscles, fatigue, headache and fever.
Untreated Lyme disease can lead to swollen joints, arthritis, facial paralysis and irregular heart rhythms. Fortunately, few people die from Lyme disease. RMSF and ehrlichiosis, on the other hand, can cause liver and kidney problems, and may be fatal if untreated. Additional complications from RMSF can include brain damage and heart failure, while ehrlichiosis can result in coma.
Given the dire possible consequences, you should take precautions to protect yourself and your family from tick bites.
Avoiding Tick Bites
Ticks are typically most active from April through September. You can protect yourself by following these tips.
• Avoid areas with high grass and thick bushes.
• In areas where ticks are commonly found, wear long pants and long sleeves. Wearing light colors also makes it easier to spot ticks on clothing.
• On exposed skin, apply insect repellent that contains 20 percent or more of DEET.
• On clothing and camping gear, use insect repellent that contains permethrin.
• Check yourself carefully for ticks, using a mirror as needed to examine your entire body.
• Shower or bathe within two hours after being in a tick-infested area, and launder and dry your clothing to kill any ticks you may not have spotted.
• Keep your pets out of tick-infested areas, and check them closely if they go outdoors.
Removing Attached Ticks
It takes 24-48 hours after a tick becomes attached for it to transfer to your blood the bacteria that cause disease. So if you find a tick crawling on you, or even find one attached to you, don’t panic. Instead, do this:
• Using tweezers, grasp the tick as close to your skin as you can.
• Pull away from the skin using steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick, or you may cause its mouth to break off and remain embedded in the skin. If this happens, use the tweezers to carefully remove all the mouth parts.
• Wash the area using rubbing alcohol.
• Write down the date and time you removed the tick, and watch the area closely. If you develop a rash, fever or flu-like symptoms within several days or weeks, see your doctor.