There are some advantages to having a warmer-than-normal winter season, but this isn’t one of them: tick season. It started early this year due to the mild winter, and experts are warning that tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia and others may be on the increase as a result. It’s a serious warning, too, because ticks are the leading disease carriers in the United States, while mosquitos rank number one on the global scale.
Take Lyme disease, for example, which sometimes, but not always, manifests a characteristic “bull’s eye” rash. Lyme disease is on the rise so much that during a two-year period the number of cases increased by 77 percent. It’s no respecter of persons, either. Even famous folks have had Lyme disease, including former President George W. Bush, Michael J. Fox, Christie Brinkley and Richard Gere.
Diagnosis of Lyme disease can be elusive, although symptoms include fatigue, headaches, fever, chills, muscle or joint pain, mental confusion, swollen lymph nodes as well as neurological problems. It is often mistaken for chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, arthritis or psychiatric disorders.
The truth is that ticks may be tiny—freckle-sized—but they can cause big health problems. You might say that ticks make up a large force to be reckoned with, too, since there are more than 800 species of ticks worldwide. Ticks aren’t classified as insects, either. They’re arthropods, as are spiders, and their bite/saliva can contain toxins, organisms (such as protozoa, bacteria or viruses) or other secretions that can make you sick.
There are two families of ticks to be aware of—hard ticks and soft ticks. Hard ticks have a tough back and can attach themselves to the host and feed for hours or days. Hard ticks usually transfer any diseases at the end of their meal, when the tick is full of blood. Soft ticks, on the other hand, have more rounded bodies and do not have the hardened back plate like hard ticks. Soft ticks usually feed for less than one hour and can transmit disease in less than a minute!
That’s why we’re having this tick talk.
Interestingly, ticks like to hang out in low brush, which allows them to come into contact with a potential host. If you lean against a tree or sit on an old log, then you might speedily pick up a tick—in about 30 seconds. You’ll want to be especially cautious if you bike or hike in or near wooded areas, fields or trails. Avoid sitting in the grass or weeds as well.
You’ll also want to wear white socks, long pants tucked into your socks or boots, long-sleeved shirts and a cap—and no sandals or open-toed shoes—when you’re in tick territory. After getting back home, check your clothing right away and shower within two hours, which can reduce your risk of being bitten. Additionally, putting your clothes in the dryer for at least an hour can kill ticks. Be sure to check yourself and others, including pets, for ticks, paying close attention to the scalp. And remember that ticks aren’t picky eaters. Any human, pet or warm-blooded animal will do because they need only the blood to survive.
Be smart. Protect yourself and your loved ones from ticks this season.