There are almost 100 different species of ticks in the U.S, but we can reduce that number down to just a handful that are the top offenders responsible for the majority of tick-borne illnesses.
- Deer Ticks (Blacklegged Tick) can be found in the Eastern half of the U.S. and are especially concentrated in the northeast and upper midwestern states. If temperatures are above freezing, the potential for bites from these ticks exists. Deer ticks can transmit Lyme Disease as well as Babesiosis and Anaplasmosis. They are commonly found in deciduous forests as well as in the undergrowth on the floor beneath the canopy.
- Lone Star Ticks are most commonly found in eastern and southeastern states. They are very aggressive and can be identified by the white dot or “lone star” on their back. They are carriers of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, ‘Stari’ borreliosis and Monocytic Ehrlichiosis. They are most frequently found in wooded areas with thick undergrowth and vegetation, especially in wildlife bedding areas.
- American Dog Ticks also called “Wood Ticks”, these are found east of the Rocky Mountains, and in more isolated areas along the Pacific coast. These ticks are known to transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Tularemia. It’s not tree covered areas you have to worry about with Dog Ticks, rather they thrive in grassy fields, scrubland and along walkways and trails.
- Rocky Mountain Wood Ticks are found primarily in the Rocky Mountain states and southwestern Canada and carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Colorado Tick Fever Virus and Rickettsia. All stages of this tick, from nymph to adult, can transmit viruses. Outdoor lovers should be cautious in grasslands, wooded areas, in shrubs and undergrowth and along trails.
Tick Borne Illnesses and the Signs and Symptoms:
There are a lot of different tick-borne illnesses with Lyme Disease getting the largest amount of focus. However, there are others so let’s take a brief look.
- Lyme Disease: Most frequently transmitted by Deer Ticks, a red bullseye rash is usually a clear sign that you could be infected with Lyme Disease and should seek medical treatment immediately. However, in the absence of a rash, a spiking fever, chills, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes and flu-like symptoms are also common. First discovered in 1973, the prevalence of Lyme Disease has soared to epidemic like proportions in recent years. The CDD estimates that there are between 300,000 and 1 million new cases every year.
- Babesiosis: Transmitted by Deer Ticks, this infection is much like malaria and is very serious. Watch for spiking fevers, headaches and body aches, exhaustion, nausea and loss of appetite, plus respiratory distress.
- Anaplasmosis/Ehrlichiosis: Lone Star Ticks are carriers of Anaplasmosis. The immune health of the infected person has a lot to do with how severe the individual case will be. Symptoms include fever, severe headaches, sweating, nausea and red eyes. If antibiotics are administered early it increases the chances for a quick recovery.
- Alpha Gal: Also known as the “Red Meat Allergy”, the bite of a Lone Star Tick can create a condition in which an allergic reaction happens when people eat red meat. It can be more difficult to diagnose this particular condition because symptoms often don’t present themselves until 3-5 hours after consuming red meat. Those symptoms can include hives, anaphylaxis, nausea, severe headaches, shortness of breath and diarrhea. Some of these symptoms can be life threatening so it’s important to seek medical attention.
- Bartonellosis: Uncle Ted used to sing about “Cat Scratch Fever” but this is the real deal. It’s transmitted to humans from the scratch of cats or other small animals that have been infected with tick-borne microbes. A rash, fever, and muscle pain usually accompany this ailment. Fortunately, this is one of the less severe tick-borne illnesses with symptoms that will subside with time.
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: RMSF is a bacterial disease that needs to be treated early with the right antibiotics to avoid severe complications. RMSF presents itself with a rash that can look like anything from red splotches to small polka dots. However, the rash does not always show up immediately after infection so it’s important to watch for other signs and symptoms like fever, nausea, headaches and stomach pains.
What’s the “right” way to remove a tick when discovered? There are a lot of different ideas out there, however, removal is simple and doesn’t require holding a match to your skin or trying to drown them out with oils.
- First, clean the area with rubbing alcohol.
- Then, using a pair of tweezers, reach down to the surface of your skin so you can grab as close to the tick’s head as possibly.
- Pull up slowly using firm and steady pressure. Don’t twist or jerk, pull straight up.
- After the removal, clean the area again with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
It’s a good idea to take a photo, take note of the location you extracted it and then save any ticks you pull off of your body. The photo can help you identify the species to see what kind of diseases are associated with the tick you removed. Knowing what kind of tick you pulled off your body can also help you track any symptoms that might occur as a result and give your doctor better information to work with for treatment. Once you remove a tick, put it in a plastic zip bag. By keeping the tick, you can even send it off for testing to determine if it carries harmful pathogens. Both options provide greater awareness for individuals and help promote early detection which is crucial for effective treatment. When it comes to Lyme Disease, people who are treated with the right antibiotics in the early stages have a much greater chance of complete recovery.
Unfortunately, many cases of Lyme Disease and other tick-borne illnesses are misdiagnosed. The symptoms can be quickly mistaken for a different ailment. By staying aware you can be your own greatest advocate.
Tick Awareness and Prevention:
Prevention and awareness are key to staying healthy and tick free. This can be achieved with a combined approach of wearing treated clothing, using repellants on the skin and by checking your body often for ticks.
- Treated Clothing: If you are heading into tick prone territory, wear preventative clothing. Wear long sleeve shirts, even in the heat of the summer. The less skin you have exposed the better. Tuck your pants into your socks to bar entry from your pant legs. Your feet and ankles are actually the point on your body with the highest chance of contact with ticks.
Tick repellent clothing has shown to be very effective at not just repelling ticks but killing them. Purchasing tick repellent clothing, sending your clothing in for treatment, or treating your clothes and footwear with permethrin by yourself is highly advised. By treating your clothing and footwear with permethrin you help create a boundary that greatly decreases your chances of contracting tick-borne illnesses. And if camping, treating tents and other gear is also highly advised.
- Repellents: Spraying your exposed skin and clothing with insect repellent can help deter ticks. Skin repellents aren’t foolproof as you shouldn’t apply them to the hands or near the eyes, nose or mouth which leaves plenty of skin untreated. However, when used in conjunction with treated clothing, they can be very beneficial. Use a repellent that is made for the skin that has at least 20% DEET.
- Tick Check: Immediately after any outdoor excursion you should do a tick check and if you are outdoors frequently it’s suggested you do a tick check daily. It’s important to be thorough, so strip down and examine your whole body. Be sure to check your hair/scalp, neck and ears. Look in your armpits, behind your knees, around your waistband and belly button. Ticks don’t discriminate, they will attach just about anywhere, even those dark zones so don’t forget to check between your legs and your unmentionable parts, too. It’s also important to check your clothes so you don’t bring ticks inside. Furthermore, it’s important to treat and check your pets, too, as ticks can move from one host to another.
- Habitat Treatment: If you live in a tick prone area with a yard that makes an enticing home to these nasty arachnids, there are treatments available to help. By eliminating leaf litter and keeping tall grasses and brush around your home mowed you reduce the appeal for ticks. There are also chemical treatments available that can be sprayed on by you or a pest control pro. Finally, wildlife like deer, rabbits and other small mammals are carriers of ticks. By deterring wildlife from coming within close proximity of your home you reduce the amount of blacklegged ticks that may enter your yard as a result.
An outdoor lifestyle is healthy and although some threats like ticks do lurk, that shouldn’t deter you from getting outside. By recognizing tick prone areas, treating your clothing with permethrin, using insect repellents on skin, checking clothing for ticks and doing a thorough body check, you can greatly reduce your chances of suffering from a tick-borne illness.
Stay safe, aware, healthy and tick free!