Tick Season Is Here
The CDC has reported in recent years that bacterial diseases transmitted by tick bites are on a steady increase nationally. Not only are the germs spread by ticks increasing in number, but they are moving into new areas. Historically, tick-borne illness has been most common in the upper Midwestern and Northeastern states, but their prevalence is expanding nationwide, including the Southeast and Georgia.
We are currently entering the peak season for ticks, which typically extends from April through September. This is also the time of year when folks in our area are exposed to these creatures because of increased time spent enjoying outdoor activities such as golf (exposure especially for those players with a tendency to hit errant shots into the bushes and woods), gardeners, hikers, campers, and bank-side fishermen, to name a few.
We are all familiar with proper techniques of protection from ticks, such as wearing appropriate clothing and using insect repellants, as well as avoiding dense bushy areas and tall grasses. We have a large population of golfers in our area, so a special tip for golfer’s protection is to adopt the “No Hunt Rule”. This simple rule is designed for players to deal with errant shots off of the short grass by agreeing to the statement “I won’t look for yours and you don’t look for mine”. There are benefits to abandoning the ball searching. In addition to avoiding a tick bite that could result in a disabling and even deadly disease, it will speed up play. Simply play all wayward shots into the thick stuff as a lateral hazard and drop a provisional ball in the tick-free fairway.
After completing your chosen outdoor activity, as soon as possible, everyone should strip down their clothing (in an appropriate location, of course), scan thoroughly for the presence of any invading creatures, and then shower with warm water and plenty of soap. The clothing should be washed to avoid releasing ticks indoors. Remember, the majority of disease carrying ticks that inflict infection are the immature larvae and nymphs (sometime called seed ticks) which are tiny, about 1/64th of an inch, and very difficult to see. On more than one occasion, we have seen patients in the office requesting that we check a skin “mole” that we addressed by removing an embedded tick.
To transfer a bacterium to a victim, ticks carrying the most virulent bugs, must be attached and feeding (sucking blood) for 24-36 hours. If there is uncertainty about estimating the time frame of exposure, a judgement can be made by the degree of the tick's engorgement. Just like us, the longer they feed, the bigger they get!
To remove a biting tick, it is preferable to use tweezers or forceps, and grasp the tick as close as possible to the skin. Then, using firm and steady pressure, pull straight back parallel to the tick’s body. Do not jerk or crush the tick. This may release bacteria or leave bacteria containing mouth parts in the bite wound, increasing the risk of infection. Examine the tick after it is removed to be sure that it is intact and no body parts have been left behind. Wash the wound with soap and water. Applying alcohol is acceptable, but do not use topical antibiotics. This might result in proliferation of an antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Please note, that if the tick does release a bacterium into the wound, this might or might not cause an immediate local skin reaction. Depending on the bacteria, generalized symptoms of an infection may not occur for up to three weeks after the bite. Despite this, infectious disease experts do not recommend prophylactic antibiotics for all tick bites. If the host becomes ill at a later date, the previous use of an antibiotic interferes with identifying the bacteria causing the seemingly new illness.
Interestingly, the tick saliva contains a numbing substance so no discomfort is felt by the victim when the bite occurs; therefore, the victim is unaware of the attack.
The most common ticks inhabiting Georgia and the diseases that they may cause are as follows: American Dog Tick (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever); Black-Legged or Deer Tick (Lyme Disease); and the Lone Star Tick (Ehrlichiosis, STARI, and Anaplasmosis). STARI is a newly discovered infection but the causative bacterium has yet to be identified. It can occasionally mimic the classic Lyme disease bulls- eye pattern rash known as erythema migrans, but the illness is much milder. All of these infections begin with flu-like symptoms and can progress to critical illnesses, but if the diagnosis is made early, all respond to antibiotic therapy.
Remember, tick-borne illness may be prevented by avoiding tick habitats (dense woods and brushy areas), using insect repellant, wearing appropriate clothing, performing tick checks, and promptly and properly removing biting ticks.
Dr. Tippett is the founder of Comprehensive Quality Healthcare Providers located at 1210 Commerce Dr. Suite 106, Greensboro, Ga. 30642. He can be reached at 706-510-3659. Visit his webpage at www.drtippett.com