How to Avoid Tick-Borne Diseases by Gary Benton
Now that summer is here, most of us will be spending more and more time in the woods. Bow hunters will be scouting new sites, or observing the movement of their favorite game, in order to be prepared for the coming hunting season. Hikers, campers, and fishermen will spend hours or days in the fields, woods, and trails of North America. Often, we head off into Mother Nature without a serious care in the world, but we should have some concerns and ticks are one of many.
Most of have encountered ticks on our wilderness treks and just add them up, like mosquitoes, as the price we pay to venture outdoors. Usually we just pull the tick off and continue on our way, not realizing the potential danger the tick may present. A simple tick can carry a number of different diseases, all of which can cripple and even kill you. How much do you know about ticks, the removal of ticks, and the symptoms of the various tick-borne diseases, treatment, and prevention?
Ticks infest the woods, fields, and front yards of many places in North America and when I venture outdoors (in Missouri) I find ticks on me almost daily. These same ticks may be capable of transmitting a tick-borne disease and those of us who live in North America are pretty much exposed to all of the tick-borne diseases, with the exception of the Babesia Infection, which has only been identified (so far) with the northeastern part of the United States.
So, let’s look at a few of the tick-borne diseases and where they are usually found.
Lyme Disease is found in a scattered manner all across the United States. However, it does not seem to be most common in the plains states.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever has been reported in all states except for Hawaii, Vermont, Maine and Alaska. This illness is the most common of the tick-borne diseases.
Southern Tick-Associated Rash. This disease is common in the south and may be difficult, without laboratory testing, to separate from Lyme disease. To the eye, the rash may appear to be Lyme disease, due to the similarity of the rashes.
Babesia Infection is very rare and only seems to be found in the Northeastern part of the United States. Unlike the other tick-borne diseases, which all have somewhat similar symptoms, this illness has malaria like symptoms.
Ehrlichiosis is the newest tick-borne disease and is currently under evaluation. It was first clearly identified in 1994, and so far, it has only been identified in a few cases in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
Now that I have your attention, if you find a tick on you, don’t panic. There are many different ways to remove a tick and the one that works for you is the best. Do not grasp a tick and just pull it off. The head may remain and cause an infection (even if the tick is not diseased). In the military, we often used a blown out and hot match head. We placed the hot end of the match near the ticks rear, it would release and then back out. At that point the tick could be removed and dealt with properly. Also, we were taught to coat the tick with tree sap, an oil, or Vaseline, to cut off its air supply. After a couple of minutes the tick will back out and you can remove it safely. Another good way to remove a tick is by using a commercial tick removal kit, which is available at many sporting goods stores.
Regardless of the method you use to remove a tick, always clean your hands afterwards with soap and water. Also, the area of the bite should be cleaned. There may be some itching in the general area of the bite following the removal of a tick. This discomfort is very common in a crotch area (genitals, armpits, or rear). Cold compresses, or a mixture of water and ashes, can greatly reduce the itch in the field.
If you contact any tick-borne disease you will know within a few days. Do not wait for them to go away, but seek medical assistance immediately. The symptoms of most tick-borne diseases are (with the exception of Babesia, which has malaria like symptoms):
A rash at the bite area, do not confuse the small red bite as a rash.
You may develop flu like symptoms
You may experience fatigue
You may start having headaches for no reason
Your neck may stiffen
Your jaw may cause you discomfort
A slight fever may occur
Your glands may swell
You may start experiencing swollen or stiff joints
Your eyes may redden
If you do not see a doctor, and you go untreated, the disease will progress to the next stage in one to three weeks after the bite:
You may become dizzy
Your heartbeat may become irregular
And, you may experience a weakness of your facial muscles
In the very late stage, the disease will affect your joints, heart, central nervous system, or other major organs.
Depending on the particular disease you have been exposed to, the symptoms for the late stages may vary. But, in all cases, seek medical attention at the first sign of a tick-borne illness.
The treatment of tick-borne diseases depends on your doctor. In most cases, treatment involves the use of antibiotics. Your medical professional is very qualified to treat the illnesses and will develop an individual treatment plan for your case. Keep in mind though; in many cases you can still experience recurring symptoms for a long time (perhaps years). Also, make sure you follow your doctor’s recommendation for treatment to the letter. Lyme disease is very serious and can adversely affect your overall heath.
Our time outdoors should be fun and exciting for us. While the rewards of spending time with nature are great, remember, there are some risks. If you use common sense, check for ticks at least twice a day, and know the symptoms of tick-borne diseases, you can feel more confident about your time outdoors. Knowledge is the key to really enjoying your time in the woods.