Warmer weather means more time outdoors and Public Health would like to remind everyone about protecting themselves against tick bites. The risk of human infection from tick bites are the greatest in late spring and during the summer months. Ticks carry the organisms that can cause diseases like Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
Ticks are generally found near the ground in bushy or wooded areas. Ticks don’t fly or jump; they generally are in tall grasses or shrubs and when brushed against will climb onto the person. Ticks will then seek a skin site and attach themselves. The most common tick-borne disease is Lyme disease. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, there were 254 cases of Lyme disease reported in 2017.
The best way to prevent tick bites is to avoid wooded and grassy areas. If you do plan to spend time in these areas:
Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
Walk in the center of trails.
Check for ticks after activities in tick areas.
Shower soon after coming in from the outdoors.
Use repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin or IR3535 on exposed skin for protections that last for several hours. Always follow the product instructions. Parents should apply the product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes and mouth.
Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks, and tents, with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and may be protective longer.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has an online tool to help you select the repellent that is best for you and your family at www.epa.gov/insect-repllents/find-insect-repllent-right-you.
If you discover a tick on your body, remove it right away. Folk remedies, such as burning the tick with a match or covering it with petroleum jelly or nail polish, are not effective. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following instructions for removing a tick:
Carefully grasp the tick by using tweezers to grip the tick by its mouth parts, which are close to the skin. Do not squeeze the tick’s body.
Pull steadily directly away from your skin. Because removing the tick’s body is your main goal, don’t worry if its mouth parts break off in the process.
Clean the wound and disinfect the site of the bite.
If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see a doctor. Not everyone who gets Lyme disease will have the same symptoms, but the best and earliest sign of infection is a rash that may appear within a few days to a month, usually at the site of the tick bite. The rash will first look like a small, red bump, then expand until it begins to look like a bull’s eye, with a red center and a red ring surrounding a clear area.
For more information on Lyme disease, visit idph.iowa.gov/cade/disease-information/lyme-disease. The Iowa Department of Public Health has a website available to see year by year disease totals, including tick-borne diseases, visit www.idph.iowa.gov/CADE and click on quarterly reports.
Christa Poggemiller is director of Des Moines County Public Health. Her column appears in Currents the first Friday of each month.