Spring Brings Threat Of Tick-Transmitted Diseases

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Warm weather season means Hoosiers will increase outdoor activities that may lead to encounters with disease-carrying ticks.

State health officials advise Hoosiers to take precautions when outdoors to avoid contact with ticks because they may carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, or Ehrlichiosis.

"When outdoor temperatures rise, ticks become active," said James Howell, D.V.M., veterinary epidemiologist, Indiana State Department of Health. "Ticks, like mosquitoes, are carriers of a number of diseases. All ticks should be considered infectious and capable of transmitting diseases, even though most are not."

Last year, Indiana confirmed 55 cases of Lyme disease, five cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, two cases of Ehrlichiosis and one case of Tularemia.

"We know in order to become ill, an individual must be bitten by an infected tick through exposed skin," Dr. Howell said. "A little care can prevent that from happening."

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Health officials recommend 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.

Dr. Howell recommends after leaving a grassy or wooded area, people should check for ticks on clothing and skin. He says 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," Dr. Howell said. "Ticks should not be removed with 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 is often associated with a persistent, slowly expanding blotchy red rash which is usually fainter at the center than at the edges. Other signs and 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, Ehrlichiosis and Tularemia are similar. They include a moderate-to-high fever, coupled with fatigue; muscle aches and pains; severe headaches; and chills. With Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever a rash may also develop shortly after disease onset, first appearing on the arms, legs, palms of the hand and soles of the feet before spreading to other parts of the body.

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