For anyone about to spend an increasing amount of time in the out of doors in the upcoming months, it is only a matter of time until you come in contact with ticks. Whether you are fishing at your favorite mountain stream, preseason scouting for this coming fall, or working on food plots according to your wildlife management plan, you need to be vigilant about encountering ticks. So what is the big hype about ticks, what’s the latest on Lyme disease, and how can we avoid all of this anyway?
The tick of greatest concern in our area is the black-legged tick — often referred to as the “deer tick.” They do not exclusively feed upon deer but instead will attach to just about any mammal, including dogs and humans. Hunters, hikers, and those folks who work outdoors are more likely to be bitten by ticks since they spend more time in forest edges, wooded areas, tall grasses, and other areas preferred by ticks. Pets that spend time out of doors are especially susceptible to becoming a host to ticks and can carry these unwanted parasites into a home.
Ticks cannot jump or fly but instead will crawl to the top of tall grasses where they await a passing host, then crawl onto clothing or fur. They then find a preferred spot and begin feeding, which may last several days. They may attach just about anywhere on a human but prefer moist, dark areas, such as under the arms, the groin area, or under the waistband.
If you locate a tick, remove it immediately. The longer it remains attached, the greater the risk of a transfer of a tick-borne disease, such as Lyme disease. Be careful. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible with sterile tweezers or a tick removal tool (check with your local drug store for this) and slowly pull upward with a steady, even tug. After removal, wash and disinfect the area where the tick was attached. Dispose of the tick by submerging it in rubbing alcohol for more than a day, wrap it tightly in tape, and throw it in the trash or flush it down the toilet. This may seem a bit extreme, but ask anyone who has been stricken by Lyme disease, and they would totally agree with these careful and proper disposal methods.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help avoid tick encounters to begin with. Wearing light-colored long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and close-toed shoes will help. Tuck your shirt into the pants and tuck the pants leg into socks or boots. Use insect repellent that contains greater than 20 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing. A very effective preventative is to treat your clothing with a product containing 0.5 percent permethrin. Walk in the center of logging roads or trails, thus avoiding tall grasses, and always wear protective gloves when handling dead animals.
Finally, what is Lyme disease, and how can it be detected and treated? Symptoms can occur within days, or sometimes they may take weeks and may include fever, headache, chills, stiff neck, fatigue, joint pain, muscle aches and depression. A telltale sign of Lyme disease is a red rash in the form of a “bull’s eye” anywhere on the body. If detected early, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics, and recovery can be quick. If untreated immediately, the infection can spread to other parts of the body, producing life-long illnesses or even death.
Unfortunately for us, Pennsylvania is leading the nation in the reported number of Lyme disease cases! In 2015, Pennsylvania logged more than 9,000 cases; in 2016, the number exceeded 12,000 reported cases, and those numbers continue to grow. The next highest Lyme disease states were New York and New Jersey.
Two other tick-related illnesses are alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) and Babesiosis, both of which are on the rise. AGS was discovered over a decade ago and can lead to food allergy — specifically, it is caused by the bite of the lone star tick and can lead to red meat allergy. Once contracted, there have been reactions to beef, pork, lamb, venison and rabbit consumption. Recently discovered, Babesiosis has been spreading throughout the Northeast and affects red blood cells and is carried by deer ticks, just like Lyme disease.
Remember to take preventative steps to avoid encounters with ticks, do a full body check when returning from outdoors, and contact your Doctor whenever Lyme disease symptoms are noted or a telltale red “bull’s eye” is identified anywhere on your body!