Ticked off about ticks


Taking steps to avoid ticks isn’t just important for pets. It’s important for people, too. Earlier this spring, the CDC reported that cases of tick-borne illnesses have more than tripled in the United States from 2004 to 2016. Over the past 50 years, scientists have detected at least a dozen new diseases transmitted to humans by ticks – some of them deadly.

“The most common tick-borne illness in our area is Lyme disease,” says Dr. Ngazi Mezu-Patel, infectious disease specialist at Cortland Regional Medical Center. Over half of adult deer ticks collected in a recent New York State study were found to carry the bacteria that causes Lyme, but that’s not the only disease to be concerned about. “Ehrlichia is also common in our area. Deer ticks have also been known to transmit anaplasmosis, and in rare cases, the parasites that cause babesiosis, which causes malaria-like symptoms,” Dr. Mezu-Patel says.

Deer ticks are commonly found in wooded areas, but they can thrive wherever mice or deer are present, including your lawn, shrubs, or garden. “If you hike, work outside or are a farmer, you’re probably going to be bitten at some point,” Dr. Mezu-Patel says.

Deer ticks feed on humans and animals at all life stages. Adults are the size of a sesame seed, and when they are in the nymph stage, they are no bigger than a poppy seed. Ticks crawl up the body, searching for warm, damp areas and places where the skin is thin to bite.

“Ticks typically need to be attached for two to three days to transmit bacteria, and the bacteria load determines what happens next,” says Dr. Mezu-Patel. If you find an attached tick, gently remove it by grasping it as close to the skin as possible with tweezers, pulling upward in a steady motion. Then wash the area with a disinfectant.

After that, “it’s a good idea to seal the tick in a bag and call your primary care provider to let them know you’ve been bitten,” says Dr. Mezu-Patel. “Your provider may prescribe a preventative dose of doxycycline and will encourage you to monitor yourself. Watch for the appearance of a bullseye rash in seven to 14 days. The size of this rash is different for everyone, and many people never notice it due to location or because it goes away on its own,” she says.

The drug of choice for treating Lyme disease is doxycycline, twice daily for 28 days. “There’s no need for a course of antibiotics if you’re not experiencing Lyme symptoms, but it can take a month or more for them to appear,” says Dr. Mezu-Patel. Classic Lyme symptoms include severe fatigue, arthritis-like symptoms traveling from joint to joint, fever, and drooping facial muscles.

The best offense is a good defense

The best way to avoid getting sick from any tick bite is to check yourself and your pets for ticks regularly. “I do daily tick checks with my family,” says Dr. Mezu-Patel. She recommends bathing or showering as soon as possible after going indoors to make it easier to spot any ticks that may be on you. Here are a few other ways to limit your tick exposure while outside:

• Keep your yard well mowed and remove leaves and brush piles where ticks like to hide.
• Avoid dense woods, long grass, and bushy areas. Stay on cleared, well-traveled trails.
• Use an insect repellent with permethrin or DEET on yourself and an appropriate tick-repellent on any pets that go outside.
• Wear light-colored clothing with a tight weave to make ticks easier to see.
• If you’re in a tick-infested area, wear enclosed shoes, long pants, and long-sleeves and tuck everything in so no skin is exposed.
• Avoid sitting directly on the ground or on stone walls.
• Keep long hair tied back, especially when gardening.

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