Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Tick season has arrived in Ky.; here are the most common ticks in our state and how to keep from getting the diseases they carry

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentuckians are finally heading outdoors to enjoy the warm weather, but the higher temperatures also means that it's tick season again, which lasts through August in Kentucky.

Mosquito Squad of Louisville graphic; click on it for larger version
“In tick-prone areas, check yourself, children and other family members every two hours, and very thoroughly after returning home from hikes and other outdoor activities,” Lee Townsend, extension entomologist in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, said in a news release. “Common places to find ticks are behind the knees, around the waist, under arms, neck and head.”

Tick-prone areas include wooded areas; the boundaries between woods and fields; tall grass; low-hanging tree limbs; underneath leaves, plants, and ground cover; and around stone walls and woodpiles that are home to mice and other small mammals that have ticks.

The state health department recommends that Kentuckians remember four steps when it comes to protecting themselves from ticks: Protect, Check, Remove and Watch.

Protect: To protect yourself from tick bites, avoid tick-prone areas, but if you are going to be in those areas use a tick repellent that has 20 percent DEET,  picardin, IR3535 or lemon eucalyptus. Wear light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and pants tucked into socks. Use permethrin-based clothing sprays, unless you have cats, which find it toxic.

Check: After you've spent time outdoors, do a head-to toe check for ticks using a hand-held or full-length mirror. Parents should check children. It is also important to check your gear and pets for ticks. If possible, change your clothes and shower after going outdoors. To kill ticks on dry clothes, put them in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes. If clothes require washing, use hot water.

CDC photo
Remove: Remove an embedded tick as soon as possible by grasping it as close to the skin as possible with tweezers and pulling straight out with gentle, even pressure. Do not jerk or twist the tick. Wash your hands with soap and water after the tick is removed. Apply an antiseptic to the bite site. Do not use alcohol, matches, liquid soap or petroleum jelly to remove a tick. Dispose of the tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag or container, wrapping it tightly in tape or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.

Watch: Watch for symptoms of tick-borne illness, including sudden fever and rash, severe headache, muscle or joint aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Symptoms can arise within several weeks of removing a tick. Contact your healthcare provider if symptoms occur.

Overall, the incidences of tick-borne diseases remain low in Kentucky, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take precautions to protect yourself.

The most common tick species in Kentucky are the American dog tick and an aggressive biter called the lone star tick. Bites from these ticks typically just cause local irritation and itching, but a small percentage carry diseases.

In particular, the adult female lone star tick, which has a white spot on its back and is about the size of a pencil eraser, can carry erlichiosis, a Lyme-like disease that can cause fever, headache, chills, muscle pain and in some cases a rash. It can also cause some people to develop an allergy to red meat.

American dog ticks, which are reddish-brown with mottled white markings on their backs and also about the size of a pencil eraser, have the potential to carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which usually begins with a sudden onset of fever and headache that appears from two to 14 days after being bitten by an infected tick. The fever can be fatal if not treated correctly.

A much smaller tick that is becoming more common in Kentucky is the blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick. It carries Lyme disease, symptoms of which can range from mild to severe, including fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash that looks like a bull's-eye, although not everyone gets the rash.

In 2016, Kentucky had 16 confirmed cases of Lyme disease, and 17 probable cases, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The news release also notes a recent confirmation of tularemia, a bacterial disease that can be transmitted by tick bites, in a captive wild rabbit in Butler County. Tularemia can be life threatening, but most infections can be treated successfully with antibiotics, according to the CDC.

The state Cabinet for Health and Family Services is hosting a Facebook Live event to discuss tick awareness and prevention at 1 p.m. ET June 4. It can be found at facebook.com/kychfs. Questions can be emailed in advance to chfs.communications@ky.gov or posed in the comments section during the event.

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