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From Jordan's Desk--Don't Get Ticked

They may be freckle-sized, but ticks can cause big health problems. In fact, they are the number one carriers of disease to humans in the U.S., although mosquitoes come in first place on a global scale.

There are bunches of them, too, with more than 800 species of ticks worldwide. Ticks aren’t classified as insects, either. They’re arthropods, like 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—hard ticks and soft ticks—that you need to be aware of. 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!

Wow. That's fast.

Tick bites may go unnoticed or can be painful—it varies. Some common tick-borne diseases include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia, although there are several others. Lyme disease, for example, is reportedly on the rise and growing at a faster rate than AIDS. From 2006 to 2008 the number of Lyme disease cases jumped by 77%. Some Lyme disease cases have famous names associated with them, too, including former President George W. Bush, Christie Brinkley, Richard Gere, Michael J. Fox and Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates.

Symptoms of Lyme disease include fatigue, headaches, fever, chills, muscle or joint pain, mental confusion, swollen lymph nodes and neurological problems. Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose, and is often mistaken as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, arthritis or psychiatric disorders. Sometimes there is a characteristic “bull’s eye” rash with Lyme disease, but that’s not always the case.

So how can you avoid getting ticked this season?

There may not be a foolproof way, but outbreaks of tick-related illnesses tend to follow seasonal patterns from April through September in the U.S. This correlates with the life cycle of ticks—as they grow from larvae to adults. Ticks like to hang out in low brush, which allows them to come into contact with a potential host. Ticks aren’t picky eaters, either. Any human, pet or warm-blooded animal will do. They simply need the blood to survive.

Leaning against a tree or sitting on an old log might be a speedy way to pick up one of these bloodsuckers. A recent study indicated that it might take only 30 seconds to pick up a tick under these circumstances, so you may want to avoid any direct contact with trees.

Be especially vigilant if you bike or hike in or near wooded areas, fields or trails. Wear white socks, long pants and long-sleeved shirts as well as a cap. Avoid sitting in the grass or weeds, too. After any outdoor activity, you may want to take singer Brad Paisley’s advice in his song Ticks and have someone “check you for ticks.’

The bottom line? Be on guard--and don't get ticked this season.


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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