Health Feature Articles
Avoid ticks, avoid disease
Janet Hackert, Regional Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Harrison County, University of Missouri Extension
Ticks have been a problem for many this year. They like the cool weather (not hot and not cold) so our mild winter meant they were able to stay close at hand. This is an annoyance, but also a health hazard since they can carry disease. Avoid the disease by avoiding the ticks!
Ticks can potentially carry and transmit a variety of diseases, including Lyme disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) point out that they can also transmit ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.
Because ticks like a cool, moist, humid environment, they are most likely to be found in wooded areas and places where there is vegetation, leaf litter or shrubs. With this year’s cool winter and spring, ticks are also showing up in grassy areas. Avoid these places when possible. If you go into such areas, be sure to protect yourself from tick bites. Use a repellent with DEET or permethrin, following the manufacturer’s usage instructions. Wear light colored protective clothing and tuck pant legs into socks.
To prevent bites, be sure to check thoroughly for ticks. One’s entire body needs to be checked, including under the arms, in and around ears, inside the belly button, the back of the knees, in and around the hair, between legs, and around the waist. Parents should check their children for ticks after they have been in potentially tick infested areas. The CDC also reports that showering within two hours of coming indoors can help reduce the risk of tick bites.
If you are bitten by a tick, it is best to remove it immediately. Remove a tick using a strong tweezers or forceps. In the MU Extension guide, Ticks (G7382), Dr. Richard Houseman, MU Professor of Entomology provides the following instructions: “Grasp the tick at the front of the body and as close to the surface of the skin as possible, and slowly yet forcefully pull the tick straight out from the body. Allow the natural elasticity of the skin to provide pressure to remove the tick. Do not grasp or squeeze the rear portion of the tick's body, either with your fingers or with forceps. This can expel the gut contents of the tick into your tissues and increase the likelihood of disease transmission if the tick is infected with disease-causing organisms.” After removing the tick, clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, iodine solution or soap and water.
Not all ticks carry disease, but if you are bitten by a tick, watch the area where you were bitten. The CDC says, “Your risk of acquiring a tick-borne illness depends on many factors, including where you live, what type of tick bit you, and how long the tick was attached. If you become ill after a tick bite, see a health care provider.”
For more information, refer to the MU Extension guide Ticks at http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G7382 or contact Janet Hackert at 660-425-6434 or HackertJ@missouri.edu or your local MU Extension office.
Last Updated 05/21/2012