Tick season

(Courtesy of the 435th Medical Group)

Beware of ticks, tick-borne diseases

Tick season is here again. Unfortunately, the local tick population may be large this year because of the mild winter rain.

Ticks are not only a nuisance: some of the local hard-shelled species, also known as “ixodid” ticks, are known to carry the organisms that cause Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis, tularemia, and Q-Fever. They also may carry the disease organism that causes Babesiosis in dogs.

Fortunately, only a small proportion of these ixodid ticks are carriers of these diseases and even if a tick is a carrier and bites a human, transmission does not always occur. Transmission of the organism is associated with longer feedings where the infected tick is attached for at least 12 to 24 hours.

Ixodid ticks are prevalent in Germany. They are active and favor cooler climates. They prefer to feed on rodents, rabbits, and wild hogs but occasionally feed on dogs and humans. Avoiding ticks and deterring tick bites is the best way to prevent exposure to TBE and Lyme disease.

Be on the lookout for signs and symptoms which may be consistent with Lyme disease or TBE.

Lyme disease occurs in several stages. The incubation period is generally seven to 10 days, but may be as short as three days or as long as 32 days. People who have been infected may experience all or only a few of the below signs or symptoms:

•Skin rash at the tick bite site. When present, it typically begins as a small red area which gradually enlarges, often with partial clearing at the center of the rash so it resembles a donut or bull’s eye.
•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 such as hives, redness of the cheeks and under the eyes, and/or swelling of the eyelids with reddening of whites of the eyes.
•Flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, stiff neck, sore and aching muscles and joints, fatigue, sore throat and swollen glands.

Without treatment, most symptoms (but not the infection) disappear over a period of weeks. In about half of the untreated, rash will reoccur and more serious signs and symptoms may follow later. With appropriate treatment, skin rash disappears within days, and averts most if not all complications.

Tick-borne encephalitis most often manifests as meningitis and encephalitis (inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, and inflammation of the brain, respectively). Long-lasting or permanent complications occur in about 10 to  20 percent of infected patients. The incubation period is between one and two weeks. Infected people may experience the following:

•A febrile flu-like illness (fever, aches, weak appetite, nausea and possibly vomiting) for two to four days.
•Up to 30 percent of the time, another phase of the disease recurs after about four days of apparent remission. It is this phase that may affect the central nervous system.
•Fever, headache, stiff neck, drowsiness, confusion, sensory disturbances and possibly paralysis may be experienced in the second phase.
•Long convalescent (recovery) period.
•Unfortunately there is no treatment for this viral disease.
The best offense is a good defense when it comes to tick-borne diseases.
Ticks are found on the ground; they do not fall from trees or bushes. They are often found in areas with shin or knee-high grassy vegetation frequented by animals or people such as fields, paths with grass along the edges, and pet-relief boundaries. Avoid these areas as much as possible. If such areas are unavoidable, use the following protective measures:
•Walk in the center of trails to avoid contact with the vegetation and wear light-colored clothing so that ticks may be seen on the clothing.
•Tuck pant-legs into socks so that ticks cannot crawl in them.
•Wrap tape with sticky-side out around pants to shin or knee height.
•Use repellents with DEET or permethrin on clothing and boots. Clothing applications typically last for several days.  Follow product instructions.
•Use skin-safe DEET repellants on exposed skin such as face, arms, legs, and waistband. These protect only for a few hours before another application is necessary. Follow product instructions.
•Inspect yourself, your children, and your pets after returning from a wooded or field area.  Inspect outer clothing first, places where clothing, hair, or skin would stop a tick’s upward movement next (behind knees, belt line, hair line, behind the ear,) and everywhere else last.
•If ticks are found, remove them with either an instrument such as tweezers (if proficient), with gloved hand, or by hand with other adequate barrier between the tick and skin. Grasp the tick gently, and gently tug straight out. The tick will slowly ‘back out’ or detach in 20-30 seconds.  
•Do not turn the tick or “unscrew” it; the head may sever. Do not use a match to burn the tick.  
•Do not put Vaseline or other ointment on the tick. These methods may irritate the tick and raise the disease transmission risk, or increase the risk of leaving portions of the tick in the skin.
•Dispose of the tick by flushing it down the toilet. Wash hands
•If bitten by a tick, make a note of it (date, time, location, bite site). It is not necessary to seek medical care at this time.

Seek care if signs of illnesses develop. When prompted for a health history, mention the tick bite and relay your notes. Visit www.cdc.gov for more information on ticks and tick-borne diseases. Contact Public Health for local health information at 479-2269/2234.