Tick Season Calls for Prevention and Early Treatment

Tick season has begun and experts say it could be at an all-time high this year. Be prepared when venturing outdoors.

Ticks are found in and near wooded areas, tall grass and brush and around landscaping. Tick bites from deer tick can transmit tick borne illnesses. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has singled out Lyme disease as the most common and fastest growing vector-borne infectious disease in the nation. In 2011, more than 24,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease were reported in the United States, with the CDC stating it believed only 10 to 12 percent of the cases have been reported.

There are two important actions for dealing with Lyme: prevention and early treatment, said Gil Burgstede, MD, ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca. Symptoms of Lyme disease range from fatigue and flu-like aches and pains to serious and long-term complications that affect the brain, joints, nerves, heart and muscles. Ticks can spread other diseases to humans including a new one that is transmitted by the same deer tick that transmits Lyme and shares many similarities with the disease.

Prevention is the first action, said Dr. Burgstede. Avoid areas with high grass and leaf litter and walk in the center of trails when hiking. If you are venturing in such areas, wear repellent and clothing like long sleeve shirts, long pants and tucking ends of pants into socks. 

“Do not forget the repellant, with at least 20 percent DEET, when you go out to the woods,” said Subha Rajan, MD, family physician, ThedaCare Physicians-New London.

Cover exposed skin with a repellent. Also spray clothing and shoes to prevent ticks from latching on and crawling up, said Dr. Rajan. Don’t forget to treat the family pet with tick collars, sprays, shampoos or monthly top spot medications. Not only are dogs susceptible to tick bites and to some tickborne diseases, but they may carry ticks into a home.

Before going back inside, check for any ticks on clothing. Put clothing into a dryer on high heat for a half hour. Take a shower to wash off any crawling ticks. Then conduct a full, top to bottom, body tick check. If you find one tick, keep looking because there may be others you cannot see the first time around. Ticks are hard to see. Nymphs, which are ticks that are not quite adults yet, are the size of a pinhead, and adults are smaller than a sesame seed.

If you find a tick, remove it promptly, said Dr. Rajan. Grasp it with fine-point tweezers as close to the skin as possible and gently, but firmly, pull it straight out. Do not twist or jerk the tick. Wash the bite area and your hands thoroughly with soap and water and apply an antiseptic to the bite site.

If, within two weeks of the bite, you experience a rash that looks like a bull's-eye or a rash anywhere on your body, or an unexplained illness accompanied by fever following, call your doctor, said Dr. Burgstede. The second important action is early recognition and treatment of the infection with antibiotics, which decreases the risk of serious complications. “Remember early treatment is easy and highly successful,” he said. “Don’t wait, come in early to be assessed if you have any concerns.”