Use precautions outdoors to avoid ticks, & diseases they carry

Getting outdoors to enjoy camping, hiking, backpacking, picnics or just walking in the countryside is a favorite way to spend time during the warm months in Texas. You can check off a list of good reasons including exercise, fun, relaxation and adventure. But another list includes ways to avoids ticks and the diseases they can transmit. A bite from an infected tick can cause illnesses such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and human ehrlichiosis. Ticks are often found in the very places people like to visit’woody, brushy and grassy areas’as well as on animals. “In Texas, the lone star tick, which is common throughout the south and central United States, is the one likely to carry disease,” said Julie Rawling of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Surveillance division at the Texas Department of Health (TDH). While many tick species prefer attaching to other animal species and staying there, this variety readily feeds on human blood. An adult lone star tick is about the size of a watermelon seed. The most frequently diagnosed tick-borne problem in the country is Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that can cause skin, joint, heart and nervous system problems. Named after the town of Lyme in Connecticut where it was first described in 1976, the disease usually begins with flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, headache, fever, stiff neck and joint pain. Occasionally there may be skin lesions or rashes, usually around the site of the tick bite. People usually are infected April through June, months when the lone star tick is most active. Treatment is with antibiotics. Untreated, Lyme disease can result is severe damage to joints, the heart and nervous system. In Texas, more than 2,200 possible cases of Lyme disease were reported from 1990 through 2000. Of those, 732 cases met the case definition for Lyme disease. Rawlings also notes that where studies have been conducted “from one to two percent of ticks carry the Lyme disease bacterium.” Both Rocky Mountain spotted fever and human ehrlichiosis, other diseases carried by ticks, can be fatal if not treated quickly. Symptoms resemble flu and include headaches, muscle aches and high fever. A measles-like rash also can be present. Some 56 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever were reported from 1990 through 2000, with a high of 10 in 1999. And 31 cases of ehrlichiosis were recorded from 1990 through 2000, with a one-year high of nine cases in 1995. “The best prevention for any of these diseases is to avoid ticks,” Rawlings said. She advises keeping fleas and ticks off pets’animals also can get Lyme disease’and discouraging unwanted animals such as rats, mice and stray dogs and cats around the home. To protect from ticks: ‘ If you are in an area with ticks, check your body carefully for them every few hours. Ticks are small and easy to miss. They attach to any part of the body’head to toe. ‘ Wear light-colored clothes to easily spot ticks. Protect skin from tick bites; wear a hat, long-sleeve shirt and long pants tucked into boots or socks. ‘ Use insect repellent containing DEET or permethrin (follow package directions). If you find a tick on your skin, remove it right away. To remove an attached tick, use tweezers to grasp the tick at the skin surface. If tweezers are not available, use a tissue to protect fingers from possible exposure to the tick’s body fluids. With a steady motion, gently pull the tick straight out. Do not crush the tick’s body. Have patience; it may take time to remove the tick properly. Using petroleum jelly or touching the tick with a hot match may be common practices but are not the best procedures, Rawlings said. Live ticks may be submitted for identification and testing to the TDH laboratory. “The ticks should be placed in a small container such as an old pill bottle with the cap tightly on,” Rawlings said. “They should never be placed loose in an envelope.” Call the TDH laboratory at 512-458-7615 for information on the proper way to submit live ticks.

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