Tiny ticks a threat to Soldier health, mission readiness
June 27, 2008
U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine
Tick-borne illnesses present a serious health threat that also can jeopardize operational readiness.
In the United States, the threat is especially strong in late spring and summer.
Aberdeen Proving Ground has a healthy population of ticks.
The black-legged tick, commonly called the deer tick, is most abundant on post, according to Ellen Stromdahl, an entomologist at the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine.
APG's climate and environment support a large number of deer ticks; and like all ticks, they thrive in humid areas with lots of brush. APG also has large, undeveloped areas populated with deer and other animals that serve as hosts for ticks, Stromdahl said.
Deer make the perfect hosts for adult deer ticks (which cause Lyme disease) to feed and mate. This makes any site with a large deer population a high risk area for ticks and the spread of Lyme disease.
CHPPM entomologists have found that about 20 percent of the deer ticks they have tested were infected with Lyme disease.
"Ticks are ranked second among arthropods at causing life-threatening and debilitating human disease," Stromdahl said. (Arthropods include insects, spiders and centipedes, as well as other segmented creatures.)
Studies and surveys of Soldiers involved in deployment or training repeatedly indicate that ticks impede performance due to discomfort, distraction, bites or sickness, Stromdahl said.
She added that Soldiers may leave their posts, change routes or locations, or abandon their cover, all because ticks are present.
"Soldiers think of everything but ticks when they are going into battle or training," she said. "At those times, they have more important situations to deal with."
However, Soldiers ignore potential tick bites at their peril.
"Different tick species transmit different pathogens [disease-causing agents]," she said.
The DOD Human Test Kit Program, which she leads, has analyzed ticks taken from Soldiers' bodies and found tick species that cause Lyme disease, babesiosis (an infection resembling malaria), ehrlichiosis (which can cause fever, kidney failure, seizures and other medical conditions), Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other potentially serious diseases.
The effects of tick bites are usually treatable; however, long-term effects to joints, the heart and the nervous system can occur.
Left untreated, some tick-borne diseases can be fatal.
Initial symptoms of tick bites include headache, fatigue, rash, nausea and fever.
There are simple precautions that Soldiers can take while training or working in a tick-infested area to decrease their risk of being infected, Stromdahl said.
These include wearing a permethrin-treated uniform, putting DEET on all exposed skin, sleeping under a permethrin-treated bed net and wearing their uniform with sleeves down and pants tucked into boots to act as a physical barrier. (Civilians and Family members should take similar precautions, and wear light-colored, tucked-in clothing.)
If despite these protective measures Soldiers find a tick attached to them, the DoD Human Tick Test Kit Program can help.
Stromdahl and the staff of CHPPM's Entomological Sciences Program can test and identify whether a tick is infected with any of eight different diseases at no cost to the Soldier.
Soldiers may contact the program through their military medical care provider.
The Tick Test Kit Program averages two to three thousand ticks from all over the country each year.
Currently the program only accepts ticks from inside the United States.
Even with the help of the testing program, Soldiers training and living on installations with an environment that supports ticks must remain vigilant in protecting their health, Stromdahl advised.
For more information about ticks, visit the CHPPM Entomological Sciences Program on the Web at http://chppm-www.apgea.army.mil/ento/.
Proper tick removal
Remove attached ticks immediately.
Grasp the tick's mouthparts as close to the skin as possible with fine-tipped tweezers; pull back slowly and steadily with firm force until the barbed mouthparts can be eased out of the skin. Be patient.
DO NOT squeeze the body of the tick or apply any substance, including petroleum jelly, nail polish, nail polish remover, repellents, pesticides or a lighted match to the tick while it is attached. These materials or methods are either ineffective or, worse, might force more infective fluid into the body.
After removal, wash the bite site and apply an antiseptic.
Contact a military medical care provider for instructions on submitting the tick for identification and testing to the DoD Human Tick Test Kit Program.
If the patient develops flu-like symptoms or rashes, or otherwise feels sick after the tick bite, seek medical attention immediately.
Take the tick to the clinic. Prompt diagnosis and treatment will likely speed recovery and prevent lingering symptoms.