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Understanding Tickborne Diseases

Understanding Tickborne Diseases

Tickborne diseases are becoming a serious problem in this country as people increasingly build homes in formerly uninhabited wilderness areas where ticks and their animal hosts live. Tickborne diseases can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites. Most people become infected through tick bites during the spring and summer months. Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a bacterial disease transmitted by the dog tick, was first identified in 1896. It still exists, although now it can be easily treated. Since then, researchers have identified many new tickborne diseases. Tickborne diseases can be found throughout the United States. For example, Lyme disease, first discovered in Connecticut in the early 1970s, has since spread to every state except Hawaii. One of the newest tickborne diseases to be identified in the United States is called Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). This disease has a bull’s-eye rash similar to that found in Lyme disease, which is caused by bacteria transmitted by the deer tick. Although researchers know that the lone star tick transmits the infectious agent that causes STARI, they do not yet know what microbe (germ) causes it. Ticks transmit ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis, both bacterial diseases. Babesiosis is caused by parasites carried by deer ticks. These diseases are found in several states. Tularemia, a less common tickborne bacterial disease, can be transmitted by ticks as well as other vectors (carriers) such as the deerfly. Public health experts are concerned that the bacterium that causes tularemia (Francisella tularensis) could be used as a weapon of bioterrorism. Tickborne disease can usually be prevented by avoiding places where ticks often live, such as dense woods and brushy areas. Using insect repellents containing DEET (for the skin) or permethrin (for clothes), wearing long pants and socks, performing tick checks, and promptly removing ticks also will help prevent infection from tickborne microbes. Scientists are searching for better ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent tickborne diseases. They are also looking for ways to control the tick populations that transmit microbes. To learn more, go to: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/tickborne/Pages/Default.aspx

Tick Removal

If you find a tick attached to your skin, there’s no need to panic. There are several tick removal devices on the market, but a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers will remove a tick quite effectively.

How to remove a tick

  1. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
For pictures, go to: http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/removal/index.html

READ ABOUT OUR OWN DR. LEE PICKETT IN THE READING EAGLE

Tick time

June 12, 2012, 12:31 a.m. EDT
Reading Eagle
Ticks are everywhere this summer, and experts say the weather and a shortage of white-footed mice are to blame. Disease-carrying insects that burrow under human and animal skin, ticks are exothermic. That means they get their energy from heat. So the mild winter and pleasant spring has boosted the area’s tick population, said Dr. Kenneth DeBenedictis, director of epidemiology, infection control and prevention at Reading Hospital. Ticks live on the blood of mammals, and mainly the white-footed mouse, DeBenedictis said. But because oak trees produced fewer acorns last fall, something that fluctuates from year to year for unknown reasons, there are fewer of the mice, so more ticks are latching onto humans and pets for nourishment. And with many people enjoying the good weather, DeBenedictis recommends that everyone aggressively protect themselves from ticks. “The habitat here is extremely friendly for ticks,” he said. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it’s best to apply insect repellent with at least 20 percent DEET, an oil that repels ticks. Those spending time outdoors should also conduct a full-body tick check with a mirror and wash off as soon as they go inside. Pennsylvania is a main breeding ground for ticks because of the state’s high population of “tick food,” like deer, mice and squirrels, DeBenedictis said. Ticks are dangerous because they carry Lyme disease and the less-common Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Lyme disease initially causes fever, headache, fatigue, and a rash, according to the CDC, and can lead to heart, joint, and nervous system complications if left untreated. Rocky Mountain spotted fever comes with similar symptoms, but can be fatal if not treated within the first few days of noticeable irritation. Over the past decade in Pennsylvania, 2,000 to 6,000 cases of Lyme disease were reported each year, while 20,000 to 30,000 were reported nationwide in those years, the CDC reported. In Berks County, 518 cases were reported to the state Department of Health between 2007 and 2009, the latest years for which figures are available. Ticks are a big problem for pets in Berks County, said Dr. Lee Pickett, a veterinarian at Bernville Veterinary Clinic. She said most dogs that have been infected with Lyme disease come to her office limping from one leg to another, and can suffer from a fever and loss of appetite. Cats rarely get the disease, she said. “After (pets) go for a walk, run fingers through their hair and coat,” Pickett recommended. “Also, use a fine-toothed flea comb on the dog to pull out the ticks.” Since ticks thrive among vegetation, the CDC recommends that people keep their yards free of leaf litter, mow the lawn often and treat grass and plants with acaricide, a tick pesticide. DeBenedictis said people visiting other parts of the country, especially states in the north-central U.S., should also be wary of tick bites. “When people go on vacation, they forget,” he said. “They don’t bring caution with them.”