AUBURN, Ala. – Spending time outdoors during the warmer days of the year can be fun for all ages. However, outdoors pests, such as ticks, can put a damper on these outdoors activities. Ticks are abundant and aggressive in many places across the county. They can transmit diseases such as lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and alpha-gal (red meat) allergy. These can pose serious health risks to humans. To avoid illness, it is important to take proactive steps that limit exposure and enable you to quickly identify disease symptoms and seek medical help.
Finding a Host
Dr. Beau Brodbeck, an Alabama Extension regional agent of forestry, wildlife and natural resources, said that ticks use several things to find and attach to hosts.
“Ticks find their hosts by sensing breath, odor, heat, vibrations or shadows,” said Brodbeck. “They also find hosts by waiting or questing on the tips of grasses and shrubs along a well-used path.”
According to Brodbeck, game trails, especially deer trails are prime locations for ticks.
“Ticks cannot fly or jump, but when hosts brush past them, ticks can quickly climb onto clothing or fur,” said Brodbeck. “Once on the body, ticks find a preferred spot and start feeding. It is during feeding that a tick can transmit illnesses to the host.”
Pets that are not treated with effective tick control products are at risk of being bitten and possibly becoming sick. They also can bring ticks into your home and put you at greater risk. An important thing to remember is that ticks are active when temperatures are above freezing. Personal protective measures and effective tick control for pets are needed year round to prevent illness in your family.
Those who are going to be in an environment where ticks might be should take certain measures to protect themselves. The following tips can decrease your chance of becoming a host to these pests.
Checking For and Removing Ticks
“Immediately after coming in from outdoor activity, check yourself, other family members and pets for ticks over the entire body,” said Brodbeck. “Closely examine hair and scalp, in and around ears, under the arms, inside belly button, under waistband, groin area, inside of thighs, around the knees and ankles and in between fingers and toes.“
Conduct a full body check in the shower using a mirror. Check skin for any bumps or scabs that might indicate a tick, especially on the scalp. If you feel a bump or scab, do not squeeze or press it, but check it. You should do this check for several days following potential exposure. Make it part of your daily routine after being outside. Also, carefully examine clothing and gear because ticks can ride into your home and attach later. It is advisable to tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for 30 minutes to kill ticks you didn’t find.
If you find an attached tick, remove it as soon as possible. Properly remove the tick with tweezers by grasping it as close to your skin as you can get and pulling upward with a steady, even tug. After a tick is removed, wash and disinfect the tweezers, your hands and the area on the skin where the tick was attached. Dispose of the tick by submersing it in rubbing alcohol, wrapping it tightly in tape and throwing it away or flushing it down the toilet.
Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States, with approximately 300,000 cases reported per year. Symptoms of Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Ehrlichiosis usually appear within days or weeks after being bitten by an infected tick. Symptoms may resemble flu and include fever, headache, chills, stiff neck, fatigue, nausea, mental fogginess, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches and joint pain.
Brodbeck said people should see a doctor is they are bitten by a tick and have these symptoms.
A telltale sign of Lyme disease is an expanding red skin rash anywhere on the body called erythema migraines. This rash may have a central clearing and take on the appearance of a bull’s eye, but not always.
To learn more about ticks and tick-borne illnesses, read the Alabama Extension publication online.
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