Spring Brings Threat Of Tick-Transmitted Diseases

Armen Hareyan's picture

Tick-Transmitted Diseases

Warm weather season means more Hoosiers will head outdoors and it could mean they may encounter disease-carrying ticks.

State health officials advise Hoosiers to take precautions when they plan outdoor activities in order to avoid contact with ticks. These tiny pests, may carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, or Ehrlichiosis.

"Once the weather warms up, ticks get active," said James Howell, D.V.M., veterinary epidemiologist, Indiana State Department of Health. "Ticks, like mosquitoes, are carriers of a number of diseases.

"Not all ticks are infected and capable of transmitting illnesses, but all should be considered infectious and capable of transmitting disease."

During the last five-year time period, Indiana has averaged 27 cases of Lyme Disease, three cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and 2.8 cases of Ehrlichiosis yearly. All cases were from disease reports and confirmed said Howell.

Howell said exposure to tick-borne illnesses can be avoided, if people follow a few precautions.

"We know that in order to become ill, a person has to be bitten by an infected tick, and that means a tick must be able to reach exposed skin," Howell said. "A little care can prevent that from happening."


Health officials recommend that if individuals plan to enter a grassy or wooded area, where ticks are often present, the best way to prevent tick-transmitted diseases is to wear a long-sleeved shirt and light-colored pants, with the shirt tucked in at the waist and the pants tucked into socks. The use of repellents provides even more protection.

Insect repellents containing DEET or picaridin can be sprayed on both skin and clothing to repel ticks and other insects. People who expect to be exposed to tick habitat for extended periods of time should use products containing permethrin on their clothing. Permethrin is an insecticide that kills ticks and other insects on contact.

Howell recommends that after leaving a grassy or wooded area, people should check for ticks on clothing and skin.

Ticks need to be attached from several hours to a couple of days before they can infect an individual.

"If a tick is attached to your skin, it can be removed with either tweezers or forceps by grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible," Howell said. "Ticks should not be removed with your bare fingers, but if tweezers or forceps are not available, you can use tissue paper or a paper towel to prevent the passing of any possible infection."

Lyme disease symptoms include a persistent, slowly expanding blotchy red rash that is paler at the center than at the edges. Other symptoms include joint pain or swelling, especially in the knees; fatigue; difficulty in concentrating; headache; stiff neck or weakness of the facial muscles; dizziness; and an irregular heartbeat.

The symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Ehrlichiosis are similar. They include a moderate-to-high fever, coupled with fatigue; muscle aches and pains; severe headaches; and chills. A rash also develops, which usually first appears on the arms, legs, palms of the hand and soles of the feet before spreading to other parts of the body.

If these diseases are diagnosed promptly, all three can be successfully treated with antibiotics.