Tick season starts in March in the Midsouth. Be prepared with these tips.
Tick-borne illnesses can take a big bite out of your health. We’ve enlisted the help of Shanita Coleman-Dockery, an advanced practice registered nurse and board-certified family nurse practitioner at Spring Hill Family Practice, to give us a refresher course on ticks and tick bite prevention.
Preventing tick bites on the go
“If you spend a lot of time outdoors, gardening, hiking, camping or hunting, wear a long-sleeve shirt and pants, and tuck your pants in your boots or socks,” Coleman-Dockery said. Apply insect repellant that contains 20 to 30 percent DEET to exposed skin or to clothing. At home, mow frequently, rake up leaves, clear brush and keep refuse out of your yard.
Checking for ticks
Shower and check for ticks after returning home from a hike or after gardening. “Inspect in and around the hair and ears, under the arms, inside the belly button, between the legs in the groin region and to the back of the knees,” Coleman-Dockery said. Check your dog daily, as well.
Removing a tick
“Use a pair of tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and pull straight up with a steady pressure,” Coleman-Dockery said. “Avoid twisting and jerking so that you do not leave a part of the tick in your skin.” Clean the area with soap and warm water. If the bite itches, apply ice and hydrocortisone cream and take an antihistamine like Benadryl.
When to seek medical attention
“If you become ill with fatigue, fever, muscle aches, rash or headaches within 30 days after a tick bite,” Coleman-Dockery said, “you should seek care for evaluation for possible tick-borne illness. And if you have a flu-like illness, with or without a known tick bite, see your healthcare provider.”
The following symptoms are specific to the various tick-borne illnesses, she added:
In Lyme Disease, a classic bull’s-eye rash occurs in a majority of individuals within one week along with flu-like symptoms of fever, chills, muscle aches, joint pain, joint swelling and headaches.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever usually begins at about 10 to 14 days. Most develop a red rash on wrists, arms and ankles, but the rash may not present for up to five days after a flu-like illness begins.
Ehrlichiosis usually develops within 12 days. Symptoms are flu-like; a sunburn-like rash can occur, as well. “This disease can be fatal, especially in those who have a weakened immune system,” Coleman-Dockery cautioned.
STARI has a classic bull’s-eye rash like Lyme Disease, but does not produce any chronic arthritis or neurological symptoms.
Alpha-gal is a mysterious allergy to red meat blamed on the bite of a lone star tick. Alpha-gal is a type of sugar found in red meat; the tick has it in its gut and introduces it to its human host. An immune system response when red meat is eaten can prompt severe allergy symptoms including hives and swelling.