Talk this summer has turned to ticks, but the illnesses the blood suckers can transmit, while somewhat painful, are rarely deadly.
That’s the word from the Fulton County Health Department, which monitors the area for cases of Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and other ailments associated with tick bites. Environmental Director Pat Wiemken said there is increased interest in the pesky insects because there’s a greater variety of them around.
“We’re seeing more ticks, different types of ticks, in this area than 20 years ago,” she said.
While several types of ticks make their home locally, the main varieties are the American dog tick, the brown dog tick, and the Lone Star tick. All are roughly the size of an apple seed, and can attach themselves to both humans and animals. They also can catch rides on toted accessories such as purses and backpacks.
Ticks attach themselves to skin with their mouths in order to drink their host’s blood. In the process, they may secrete an anesthetic that deadens sensitivity to their bite.
In some cases, their feast can lead to Lyme Disease, which is caused by a bacteria transmitted through the bite. Last year, 30,000 cases were reported nationwide.
Lyme Disease can surface about three days after being bitten as fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue. It also usually comes with a distinctive rash around the bite that resembles a bullseye. Symptoms such as a severe headache and neck stiffness can occur up to a month after being bitten.
This year, one case of Lyme Disease has been reported locally.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever symptoms are similar to those of Lyme Disease but the illness can be more harmful. The most telling difference is the ensuing rash, which resembles tiny spots.
The illnesses are typically not fatal but can more critically affect younger children and people with compromised immune systems. In most cases, however, affected people may never be aware they’ve been infected or their illness, like a cold, simply runs its course.
Wiemken said it’s important to properly handle a biting tick. The ideal removal is straight out of the skin with tweezers. Other methods – such as the old practice of touching the tick with a hot match head – may leave the mouthpiece inside the skin, she said.
Once the tick is removed, wash the area with soap and water, then cover the affected area with alcohol or an antibiotic cream.
And don’t forget to check pets, especially dogs, Wiemken said. Ticks feed on them, too, and can lay eggs there.
“It may not give them a disease but it could give them a wound that could get infected,” she said, adding that veterinarians carry insect repellent for pets.
While they prefer humid or wet weather, ticks are known to hide in grass and weeds, so keeping lawns mown is helpful, Wiemken said. They can also be found in wood piles and in accumulated trash.
Good defenses include keeping patios, decks, and play areas well distant from wooded areas, she said. When hiking, stay on designated trails. When outdoors in areas ticks could be prevalent, wear long sleeves and pants and use insect repellent, directly on clothing if necessary.
Wiemken said a good rule of thumb is to use the same defense tactics against ticks as against mosquitoes.
“We assume they’re out there, and emphasize that prevention is the best way to deal with them,” she said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.