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Be aware, protect from ticks now

Posted 3/27/2012   Updated 3/27/2012 Email story   Print story


by Capt. Stela Striligas
66th Medical Squadron, Public Health

3/27/2012 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Officials at the 66th Medical Squadron are warning base personnel to be aware of ticks. People who spend a lot of time outdoors or have pets that go outdoors should pay attention to make sure they have not picked up these creatures.

Ticks are relatives of spiders and survive by eating blood from their hosts. They 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 occur in all areas of the United States, affect people of all ages and are more common in the spring and summer months when tick bites are most common.

The blacklegged or "deer tick" is common in Massachusetts and carries Lyme disease. These ticks range in size from approximately 1.5 millimeters to 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.

The duration of tick attachment is important in assessing the risk of transmission of Lyme disease, as it is rarely transmitted within the first 48 hours of tick attachment. Removal of the tick within this time frame often prevents the infection.

Things to keep in mind:

What should I do if I find a tick on myself?
The tick should be carefully removed as soon as possible. The longer an infected tick remains attached to a person or animal, the higher the likelihood of disease transmission. Ticks not attached to skin cannot transmit diseases.

Use fine point tweezers 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. Do 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.

Ticks can be tested for various diseases. Save the tick by placing it in a clean, dry sealed container. If a 66th Medical Squadron beneficiary pulls a tick off of their body and it is alive or intact, they can submit the tick for testing. All specimens can be brought to the Public Health office.

How can I protect my family, my pets and myself from tick bites?
For those that live, work or spend leisure time in an area likely to have ticks, follow these tips:

· The single most important thing to do is check 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. Remember to check children and pets, too. Remove any attached tick as soon as possible.

· Use repellents that contain DEET on exposed skin and those that contain permethrin on clothes. DEET-containing repellants with concentrations of 15 percent or less may be suitable for children. These should be carefully applied strictly following label directions.

· Stick to main pathways and the center of trails when hiking.

· Wear long sleeved, light colored shirts and long pants tucked into socks. This may be difficult to do when the weather is hot, but it will help keep ticks away from skin and make it easier to spot a tick on clothing.

· Talk to a veterinarian about the best ways to protect pets from ticks.

Diseases transmitted by ticks:

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria spread by infected ticks. In the early stages, sometimes a rash will 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 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 person may remain infected. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. Currently, there is no human vaccine available to protect against Lyme disease or any other tick-borne disease found in Massachusetts

Babesiosis is another disease caused by the microscopic parasite that infects red blood cells. People can get infected through the bite of an infected tick. Many people that are infected feel fine and do not have any symptoms. Symptoms, if developed, can start within a week or so after exposure and include a fever, chills, sweats, headache, body aches and loss of appetite, nausea or fatigue. Babesiosis is treated successfully with antibiotics.

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

For more information about ticks or the prevention or treatment of tick-borne diseases, visit the Massachusetts Department of Public Health website at www.mass.gov/dph, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control website at www.cdc.gov or call the 66th Medical Squadron Public Health office at 781-225-6301.

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