A relatively warm winter has come to haunt us in the form of ticks. And because our pup prefers the road not traveled, we are finding one or two a day. It seems that even talking about them causes my head to itch.
We live in the North Carolina piedmont region, so the American Dog Tick seems to be the one we’re picking off our jeans. Different types of ticks are prevalent in specific areas of the United States, but the Brown Dog Tick roams the entire continental United States.
As you know, all ticks are known to carry a variety of diseases including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease, so they shouldn’t be taken lightly. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the incidence of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever has increased during the last decade, with most cases (60%) reported in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri.
Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever include fever, rash, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, muscle pain, lack of appetite, and red eyes. Few people who have the disease will develop all the symptoms. The accepted first line of treatment is an antibiotic called doxycycline started as soon as symptoms begin.
Of course, the best way to avoid illness is to avoid contact with ticks altogether.
Grassy and wooded areas are particularly likely to be a tick habitat, but can just as well be in your backyard. Ticks can ride in on clothing, gear, and even the family pet. It’s important to check every time you come in from a trip outside. Ticks can attach under arms, in and around the ears, in the groin area, and especially in your scalp.
To lessen the chance that you will become a meal for a roaming tick, wear long pants with your pant legs tucked into your socks. Tuck your shirttail into your pants so that ticks have a longer way to climb before reaching skin, and use an insect repellant that contains DEET or permethrin, picaridin, IR 3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Most pediatricians recommend using products with 30 percent or less of these ingredients on children. Always read and follow the product label before applying any insect repellent.
To reduce tick habitats, try these tips:
• Mow the lawn often to keep grass short, clear brush and leaf litter under trees, and keep the ground under bird feeders clean.
• Keep playground equipment away from yard edges and trees.
• Pesticides can be effective in controlling ticks, but always apply according to the product label.
• Remove plants that attract deer to your yard and construct physical barriers to discourage tick-infested deer from coming near your home.
A tick must be attached at least six hours in order to transmit disease organisms that cause Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, so the quicker you find a tick and remove it, but better off you will be.
If you find a tick that’s already attached to your skin,
• Use fine-tipped tweezers or shield your fingers with a tissue, paper towel, or rubber
gloves. Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible and pull upward with
steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick; this may cause the mouthparts to
break off and remain in the skin.
• Do not squeeze, crush, or puncture the body of the tick.
• After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite site and wash your hands with soap and water.
• Make a note of the date you removed the tick and save it for identification in case
you become ill. This may help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis. Place the tick in a plastic bag and put it in your freezer or drop it in a small container of alcohol.
It’s still disconcerting to me to have to take so many precautions for a simple dog walk, but at least I’m aware of the dangers and what to watch for. Here’s hoping that a few prevention tips will help you keep ticks at bay so you can focus on enjoying outdoor activities worry-free.