Ticks: An Ever-Present Nuisance

Spring time is approaching if not already here. This means we can expect an abundance of wonderful flowers, new growth, and unfortunately more active ticks. Our area is full of ticks and they often make an uninvited visit into our home, on our pets, or even on us. So what are supposed to do about these small nuisances?

Do All Ticks Carry Human Disease?

The quick answer is no. Most ticks are harmless to us and our pets. Thus there is no reason to panic when a tick is found on us or our animals. There are a number of diseases that can be spread to humans by ticks, but again this is not common in our area. For example Lyme disease, which is one of the most publicized tick-borne diseases, is far more prevalent in the Northeast.

Which Local Ticks Cause Which Disease?

We have four ticks in our neighborhood, the lone star tick, Gulf Coast tick, brown dog tick, and the American dog tick. Each of these ticks has been reported to cause a variety of human illnesses. Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI) is caused by the lone star tick. Ehrlichiosis is spread by the lone star tick as well. Tularemia spread by the dog ticks and lone star tick is another disease that occurs in our part of the world. Trickettsia parkeri that causes a "spotted fever" is carried by the Gulf Coast tick. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is spread by the American Dog tick and the brown dog tick. Interestingly the lone star tick and others are commonly carried by white tail deer, and on Seabrook this no doubt is a popular conveyance for these ticks through our yards. Only infected ticks can spread these diseases and then they must bite you before they can infect you.

Avoiding Ticks & Tick Bites

If one does not want a tick bite then stay indoors! OK, that is impossible so what else can you do to minimize tick bites. The list is short and simple. First, do avoid tick hangouts like tall grasses, leaf piles, or brush in the woods. Second, there are insecticides (e.g. acaricide) that specifically kill ticks and these can be purchased and require only one yard application in the Spring (April or May). When planning on enjoying the outside and perhaps taking a walk in the woods spray yourself with DEET or some other high-quality repellant. Make sure your dog has tick protection that is available from any veterinarian.

Despite all these precautions, one is bound to find ticks on pets and yourself and others. In fact, look for them if you don't want to be bitten. Ticks like to go to soft skin places like folds of skin, umbilicus, ears, and hair. Just remove them if they have not taken hold of you or your pet with their jaws (biting). Dispose of the live tick by immersing in alcohol or flushing down the toilet.

Removing the Tick that is Biting

It is almost impossible in our area not to get a tick bite from time to time despite all the precautions above. So when the bite occurs to you or your pet, the tick needs to be removed promptly. This is not difficult, but as with any procedure, requires proper preparation and instrumentation. All that is needed is alcohol and or iodine to cleanse the site and a pair of fine tipped tweezers. It is helpful to use some magnification glasses as well. The steps are:

  1. Cleanse the site
  2. Grasp the tick with tweezers pulling the tick at 90 degrees from the skin
  3. Apply steady removal pull - do not jerk or twist the tick
  4. If mouth parts are left in the skin try to remove them with tweezers
  5. If unable to remove any portion of the tick - leave it alone and watch site over days
  6. Clean the site again with alcohol or iodine
  7. Dispose of the tick in toilet

It is important to observe the site for signs of infection (redness and pustule formation). Also from time to time check for lymph node enlargement above the site (in the armpit if on the hand for example).

Signs & Symptoms of Tick-Borne Diseases

As should be clear, most tick bites do not cause disease. However, some can and one must be vigilant after being bitten for any of the following symptoms: fever/chills, aches and pains in the joints, or rash around the site or on the body within 30 days of a bite. If any of these symptoms occur after a tick bite visit your doctor and explain to him or her about the tick and the symptoms. All tick borne diseases can be effectively treated with antibiotics but, as with all illnesses, the sooner the treatment the better.

The Bottom Line

Going outside in our beautiful locale is an open invitation to be joined by a tick. They can be avoided and should be removed before they can bite. However, failing that, remove the tick and watch the site for a month. Most ticks are harmless, but be alert for the one that is not.