How to help stay safe as tickborne illnesses increase

When dealing with ticks, these little buggers can pack a potentially serious bite. The more time we spend outdoors, the higher the risk of contracting a variety of illnesses. We’re most vulnerable from April through September, and the latest reports show tickborne diseases were reported in all states but Hawaii.

Perhaps the most alarming statistic relates to the uptick in incidences. The total of tickborne diseases has more than doubled between 2004 to 2019, while the range of some ticks continues to expand geographically.

The trouble comes as these tiny critters transfer potentially harmful pathogens when “snacking” on unknowing victims. The time it takes for a tick to prepare to feed varies from 10 minutes to two hours. So, it’s important to do a complete body and clothing check immediately upon coming in from outside – particularly after visiting wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. Know where to look and do a thorough inspection, especially in some of those sneaky spots like your armpits, inside the belly button, around the ears and even between the legs. Ticks can easily find a discreet hiding spot.

When a tick does attach, it inserts a feeding tube and can suck blood for up to several days, unbeknownst to the host, animal or human. If the tick is carrying a pathogen, the disease could be transferred through its saliva.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), many tickborne illnesses, such as Lyme disease and Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI), can present with similar symptoms, such as fatigue, fever, chills and rash.  

Consider taking precautions when in wooded areas like using DEET and covering exposed skin as the first step to helping prevent tickborne troubles for you and your family, as well as pets. If you do find one on your skin, avoid using petroleum jelly or burning devices, and follow these CDC guidelines to remove the tick:

  • Take a fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  • Pull upward with steady, even pressure – avoid twisting, as this can cause parts of the tick to remain in the skin.
  • Upon removing the tick, flush it down the toilet.
  • Finish by taking some extra time to clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

So far this year, tick bite prevalence is on track with other recent years. It’s best to help fight back with preventive measures whenever you’re outside. If you or someone in your family is bitten, be sure to watch the wound closely. If rash, swelling or pain occurs, schedule a visit to see your doctor.

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