By Dr. Dan Lewis, Emergency Department, Mount Pleasant Hospital
Not only are ticks sneaky little bugs, they also carry dangerous diseases. And this year, due to the unusually mild winter, entomologists predict this spring and summer to be a heavier than usual time for ticks.
Ticks are always looking for a warm-blooded body to feast upon, which is a scary thought for those who spend time outdoors. Tick season – as it may be called – is from May to July. And in South Carolina, the warm, moist climate is especially favorable to ticks.
They are small, hard to spot in tall grasses or brush, jump from trees and are easily undetected when they latch onto humans or pets. Many times ticks do not transmit any infectious disease; rather they just cause local inflammation.
However, in 2010, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated about 30,000 cases of tick-borne Lyme disease were reported nationwide.
Symptoms are hard to distinguish, as they are similar to a cold or a virus. Many times, the classic target shaped rash associated with Lyme disease might not be present.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is also a common tick-transmitted disease. The incidence of RMSF has increased during the last decade, from less than two cases per million persons in 2000 to over 8 cases per million persons in 2008.
Reported RMSF cases are highest among males and those aged 50-69. Once bitten by a tick and inflicted with Lyme or RMSF disease, patients can exhibit symptoms such as fever, chills, joint pain, and fatigue.
Patients may often believe their symptoms are those of the flu or seasonal allergies and may not seek treatment for their illness. Recognizing the signs of tick-transmitted diseases or even of a tick bite can help prevent serious illness later. To avoid getting sick from a tick bite, protect yourself and your family by following these simple steps:
- Pay attention to your skin: Always perform a complete head-to-toe check of your body after walking in the woods or in high grass. If you notice a bulls-eye-type rash, a red rash on the palms of your hands or soles of your feet, or any other skin irritation, go to your local medical facility.
- Wear light-colored clothing: White or light-colored clothing deters ticks, mosquitoes and flies from biting or latching onto the skin.
- Use insect repellent: An insect repellent with DEET is the best way to ward off no-see-ums, ticks, mosquitoes and flies. The CDC recommends the use of insect repellents with 20 percent DEET or more applied to exposed skin. This is approved and safe for outdoor activities – just make sure to wash it off your skin once you’re indoors.
- Landscape: Take care of the landscape around your home. Ticks and other pests that are harmful to humans live in long grass, overgrown shrubs and brush.
- And, always, if you have concerns over any bite or skin mark, contact your family doctor or visit an ER as soon as possible.
Have questions, comments or ideas for Patched Up!? Contact us here.