With warmer weather most of us are outside more often, which puts us in possible contact with ticks. Since they enjoy taking free rides (meals included) on our bodies, ticks are both a nuisance and a health concern, spreading spotted fever and Lyme disease to unfortunate victims.
Lyme disease has been a problem in the south for many years. It’s caused by a type of bacteria, called a spirochete. It was formerly thought that only the deer tick carried it, but the bacteria have also been found in the dog and lone star tick as well. The disease is often mistaken for the flu in its early stages, including headache, muscle aches, or fatigue. Within three to 20 days after receiving the bite, most victims will develop a circular or oblong rash that may be wide spread or concentrated in one area.
If you experience these symptoms, consult your physician. Caught early it’s easy to treat Lyme disease with antibiotics. Later stages are harder to treat and much more damaging to the body. Late stage symptoms include: Skin infections (rashes, tumors), eye infections (retinal damage, “lazy eye”), joint or muscle inflammation (arthritis-like), heart infection (irregular heartbeat), respiratory infection, intestinal problems (nausea, diarrhea, vomiting), reduced nerve conduction, and liver infection. During pregnancy it can cause miscarriage, premature birth and stillbirth. These are all big league problems with no assurance of a total cure. It is therefore very important to identify and treat the disease as soon as possible.
Another health issue with tick bites is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), also caused by bacteria, and also may come with flu-like symptoms. A red, non-itchy rash may appear s on the wrists and ankles, and can spread. It’s equally important to catch RMSF early to prevent serious, even life-threatening health problems.
Preventing tick bites is the best way to lower your chances of tick spread diseases, so keep these tips in mind when outdoors.:
• Wear light-colored clothing so ticks can be spotted easily;
• Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants when walking in high grass or woodland;
• Tuck pant legs into socks;
• Use insect repellent on your lower legs; and
• Wash clothes soon after being in tick infested areas — if you just throw them in a pile the ticks may crawl off into your home.
Steve Roark is the area forester in Tazewell, Tennessee, for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division.