Tick-ed off: Protect yourself against Lyme disease this summer

***image1***As many people in Ramstein and Vogelweh housing know, mild winters and temperature variations can cause the tick population in and around the area to be much larger than normal.  

This, according to Capt. Stephen Wolf, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Command entomologist, is something to be aware of.

“Other than mosquitoes, ticks are the most important vectors of disease to humans throughout the world,” he said.

One species of tick is found in this area, said Lt. Col. Bridget Gregory, 435th Medical Group Public Health flight commander. The European Castor Bean Tick, or Ixodes Ricinus, is known to occasionally carry the organism that causes Lyme disease.

Another disease transmitted by ticks, particularly in southern Germany and Austria, is tick-borne encephalitis. Captain Wolf said that people should be aware, but there is no serious cause for alarm.

“It is very important to know that even in the highest risk areas of southern Germany, less than 5 percent of all ticks carry these pathogens and even if the tick does carry a pathogen, infection to humans may not occur,” he said.  
The only way a tick can transmit a disease-causing organism to a person is by biting and feeding for an extended period of time (12 to 24 hours).
Consequently, the most effective method against ticks and Lyme disease are the personal protection actions you take.

Ticks are often found in areas with shin or knee-high grass (edges of fields or paths). Avoid these areas as much as possible. If contact with these areas is unavoidable, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself.

If a tick bites you or a family member, make a mental note or mark the date on a calendar, Lieutenant Colonel Gregory said. If signs of illness develop or the bite area becomes inflamed, report to the clinic. When asked for a health history, mention the tick bite and the day it occurred.

“Since few ticks in the KMC area are infected with the Lyme Disease bacteria or the TBE virus, it is unusual that a tick bite indicates a clinic visit is necessary,” she said.

Still, symptoms of Lyme disease usually include a skin rash at the site of the tick bite about three to 30 days after bite. This begins as a small red area which gradually enlarges, often with partial clearing in the center of the rash so it resembles a donut or bulls-eye. There may be multiple secondary lesions, similar in appearance to the first rash, on other parts of the body.  Burning and itching may accompany the rash.

Other skin signs of Lyme disease include hives, redness of the cheeks and under the eyes, and/or swelling of the eyelids with reddening of whites of the eyes. Skin signs may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, stiff neck, sore and aching muscles and joints, fatigue, sore throat and swollen glands.

If not treated, most symptoms disappear over a period of weeks. However, the rash will reoccur in about 50 percent of untreated people, potentially leading to heart disease, arthritis, or central nervous system problems. If treated with antibiotics, the skin rash goes away within days, and complications may be avoided. For more information, go to www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/Lyme/index.htm.

TBE first produces flu-like symptoms, which disappear after a few days. But shortly after, around 10 percent of patients develop meningitis. The disease kills 2 percent of those infected and can trigger long-term sequelae, such as concentration problems or paralysis, in up to 40 percent of cases.

Although there is a Lyme Disease vaccine, it is not effective against European organisms, and therefore not stocked locally. For TBE, Austria has used an effective TBE vaccine since 1967.  However, the United States has not licensed any TBE vaccine; therefore, one is not available to Department of Defense personnel. Avoiding ticks or promptly and properly removing them are by far the most effective preventive measures.
(Courtesy of the 435th Medical Group-
Public Health)

Five tips to beat ticks
æ Tuck your pants into your socks. You can also wrap tape (sticky side out) around your pants at shin height.

æUse insect repellent that contains DEET on your legs and arms.  While some people swear by other methods, DEET is the most effective compound for keeping ticks away.

æ Inspect yourself, your children, and your pets after returning from a wooded or field area. Start with the outer clothing and then inspect places where clothing, hair, or skin would stop a tick’s upward movement (behind the knees, belt line, hair line, behind the ear).

æ If you find a tick, remove it with a tweezers. Grasp the tick with the tweezers as close to your skin as possible and gently pull the tick straight out. It is absolutely imperative that you don’t turn the tick or “unscrew” it; don’t grasp the tick by the posterior end; don’t use a match to burn the tick; don’t put Vaseline or fingernail polish removal or other ointment on the tick. All of these methods may irritate the tick and thus, increase the possibility of disease transmission or increase the possibility of leaving portions of the tick in the skin.

æDispose of the tick by flushing it down the toilet or by placing it in a vial of alcohol.  Wash your hands after you’re finished.