These little bugs cause thousands of diseases in this country and millions worldwide. Treatment is not often effective so prevention is the key.
Lyme disease is the most common tick bourn disease in the US with over 16,000 cases each year. It occurs most common in children and the elderly during the months of April through November. An expanding skin rash is characteristic in over 70% along with flu like symptoms. If not treated early it can lead to nervous system disease, arthritis and heart problems.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever has about 1100 cases a year being highest among those most active outdoors, children and young adults. The main symptoms are headaches and fever and a characteristic centripetal rash starting on the palms and soles then spreading to the arms and legs and then trunk. These tick disease can rapidly get worse to point of hospitalization and death.
West Nile virus infection is the most common mosquito illness in this country but nearly 80% of those infected have no significant symptoms. If symptoms do develop, they are usually flu like symptoms and most people recover. The elderly are higher risk of getting encephalitis or other serious problems.
Prevention is the key to reducing these kinds of illnesses. When possible you should wear long sleeve shirts and pants with socks that cover ankles while outdoors. Apply insect repellent containing DEET to exposed skin and clothing. Avoid peak mosquito biting times at dawn and dusk. Drain any standing water around the home where the insects lay eggs. Like mosquito bites, most tick bites do not carry disease nor cause problems but it is best not to take chances.
Inspect your entire skin after outdoor exposure each day. It usually takes over 48 hours of attachment before disease can be transmitted. If you do find an attached tick, the best way to remove it is with a good pair of tweezers. Do not use the old techniques of hot match, oil or alcohol. These are usually ineffective and can cause more problems. Grab the tick over the head area with tweezers as close to the skin as possible. Then use steady firm traction till the tick releases. Do not yank it or you may tear the skin.
Follow these preventive ideas to make your outdoor summer experience more safe and free from unwanted bites. More information can be found on WebMD.com.
Dr. Jeffrey G Smith is the Chief Medical Officer for Three Rivers Community Health in Lyles and Perry County Medical Center in Linden.