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Summer months bring ticks

Posted 6/17/2010   Updated 6/17/2010 Email story   Print story


by Capt. Kerry Ciolek
66th Medical Group

6/17/2010 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Individuals who spend time outdoors or have pets that go outdoors should beware of ticks. Ticks are small bloodsucking bugs and are the leading carriers of diseases to humans in the United States, second only to mosquitoes worldwide. Tick-borne diseases are a group of illnesses that people get from tick bites. These diseases can affect people of all ages in all areas of the United States and are most common in the spring and summer months when tick bites are most frequent.

The blacklegged or "deer tick" is common in Massachusetts and carries Lyme disease. These ticks range in size from the small larval, approximately 1.5 millimeters, to an adult size at about 15 millimeters, or 5/8 inch, when engorged with a blood meal. Small ticks are often difficult to detect, and many people diagnosed with Lyme disease do not recall finding a tick attached to their bodies.

If a tick is found on the body it should be carefully removed as soon as possible. The longer an infected tick remains attached to the skin, the higher the likelihood of disease transmission. Ticks not attached to skin cannot transmit diseases. Fine point tweezers should be used to grip the mouthparts of the tick as close to the skin as possible. The tick should not be squeezed or twisted, but pulled straight outward with steady, gentle pressure. The individual should not apply kerosene, petroleum jelly, nail polish or a hot match tip to remove the tick. These measures are not effective and may result in injury.

Once removed, ticks can be tested for various diseases if saved in a clean, dry sealed container. 66th Medical Group beneficiaries may submit intact or alive ticks removed from human skin to the Hanscom Public Health Office for testing.

Individuals who live, work or spend leisure time in an area likely to have ticks can protect themselves, their families and pets from ticks by taking the following precautions:
  • Skin should be checked for ticks once a day. Favorite places ticks like to go on the body include areas between the toes, back of the knees, groin, armpits, neck, along the hairline and behind the ears. Children and pets should also be checked. Any attached ticks should be removed as soon as possible.
  • To prevent tick bites, repellents containing DEET can be applied to exposed skin and those containing permethrin can be applied to clothes. Repellants with 15 percent DEET or less may be suitable for children. These should be carefully applied following the directions on the label.
  • Hikers should stick to main pathways and the center of trails.
  • Long-sleeved, light colored shirts and long pants tucked into socks will help keep ticks away from the skin and make it easier to spot a tick on clothing.
  • Pet owners should consult their veterinarians about the best ways to protect pets from ticks.

Tick-borne diseases:
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria spread by infected ticks. In the early stages of infection, a rash will sometimes develop where the tick was attached. The rash appears from three days to a month after the bite. It often starts as a small red area then spreads, clearing up in the center so that it looks like a donut. Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, stiff neck, sore and aching muscles and joints, fatigue and swollen glands are also common in the early stages of Lyme disease. These early symptoms often go away after a few weeks, but the individual may remain infected. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. Currently no human vaccine is available to protect against Lyme disease or any other tick-borne disease found in Massachusetts.

Babesiosis is another tick-borne disease caused by Babesia, a microscopic parasite that infects red blood cells. Many people infected with Babesia have no symptoms. But symptoms can start within a week after exposure and include a fever, chills, sweats, headache, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea or fatigue. Babesiosis is treated successfully with antibiotics.

Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosis (HGA) is a third illness spread by the deer tick. Symptoms include headache, fever, chills, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite. The symptoms usually appear within four to 14 days of being bitten by the infected tick. HGA is treated successfully with antibiotics.

More information on tick-borne diseases is available on the Massachusetts Department of Public Heath website, www.mass.gov/dph, or the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control website, www.cdc.gov.

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