A mild winter and early spring mean life has been easier for ticks this season, and they’re out and biting earlier than usual. If you hike, camp, garden, or otherwise enjoy the great outdoors – or if your pets do – it’s time to take steps to protect yourself and those you love.
These bloodsucking parasites don’t do much damage when they bite, but can spread serious infections to people. These include:
Lyme disease – found in many parts of the U.S., this bacterial infection often includes a bull’s-eye rash.
Anaplasmosis/Ehrlichiosis – both concentrate east of the Rocky Mountains, but ticks carrying the bacteria that causes anaplasmosis have been collected on the west coast and in southwestern states.
Babesiosis – found worldwide, though most cases have been reported in the coastal areas of the northeastern U.S.
Symptoms of all three can begin within five days of a bite from an infected tick, and are similar. They include fever, chills headache, muscle and joint aches, stiff neck, fatigue, nausea and sometimes rash. All three infections are treatable with antibiotics, and most people recover fully. However, if left untreated they can cause life-threatening illness.
Prevention, as with most things, is simpler than treatment. While enjoying time outdoors:
• Avoid tall grasses, shrubs and leaf litter where ticks will most likely be present.
• Wear insect repellant with DEET, and protect your pets with appropriate products.
• Wear long sleeves and long pants.
• Stay on trails. If you must leave the trail, tuck your pants into your socks.
When you head back inside, check yourself and your pets for ticks. Remove any you find right away by pinching the tick (with force) near its mouth parts and pulling it out slowly and steadily. Don’t twist it, or you might leave mouth parts embedded in the skin.
If you’ve been bitten by a tick, watch for symptoms of infection. Even if you don’t recall being bitten by a tick, contact your doctor if you’ve been outdoors and experience symptoms of tick-borne infection. Antibiotic treatment is most effective if you start it early.