Reducing exposure to ticks is the best defense against Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other tick-borne illnesses.

It's important to be fully prepared with the knowledge to live a life free from annoying tick bites or debilitating diseases. This article will educate individuals on how ticks and the diseases they carry work, how their bites can be prevented and what actions to take if bitten.

Lyme disease is the best known of the illnesses they can carry, but not all ticks carry it. In fact, most ticks in the Fort Lee area are Lone Star Ticks and carry other diseases, such as Human Monocytotropic Ehrlichiosis.

The heartland virus is a new tick-borne disease on the block that the Lone Star Tick is responsible for but, so far, only 10 cases exist in Missouri and Tennessee.

Nearly all tick-borne diseases have many of the same symptoms -- fevers and chills, aches and pains and rashes around bite location. Few cases result in death, especially if quickly diagnosed and treated.

Although these are referred to as tick-borne diseases, ticks are all born pathogen free. All vector-borne diseases -- diseases transmitted to humans by arthropods, have similar disease life cycles. The parasite needs a blood meal in order to develop and reproduce. The vector feeds on an organism infected with a blood-borne pathogen, which is called the disease reservoir. If the vector feeds on a human for its next meal, then that person will likely acquire the pathogen and become ill. Not all organisms are infected. Therefore, not all vectors carry diseases. Ticks have specialized saliva that numbs the skin and acts as a cementing agent, which is how they can get such a firm grip on a person. If the tick is infected, the bacteria takes approximately 24 hours to "reactivate" and get into the tick's saliva. This good news means that a tick must be actively feeding on you for several hours to transmit a disease.

The best way to prevent tick bites is the DOD insect repellent system and service members have it. That's right, it's in the military member's uniform! A properly worn uniform is the best defense. Make sure trouser legs are tucked inside the boots. All uniforms sold now are pre-treated with permethrin, which kills ticks on contact. Apply a DEET-based insect repellent to any exposed skin and to stay tick-proof. If this parasite cannot bite a person, then it will not infect them.

Off-duty service members, civilians and their families can use the same principles and become tick -proof as well. Always wear long pants when in wooded or brushy areas and tuck them into high-top boots or long socks. Wear light- colored clothing so ticks can be easily spotted and brushed off. Additionally, there are permethrin treatment kits that can be purchased to turn clothing into tick resistant armor.

If bitten by a tick and the skin has been broken, remove it carefully with fine point tweezers. Do not burn, apply petroleum jelly or utilize any other mythical home remedies because there is no substitute for the following proper technique.

First, disinfect the surrounding area with an alcohol swab. Next, place tweezers as close to skin as possible and grasp the insect firmly. Pull straight up slowly until the tick either comes out or breaks. The infectious material is much farther back in the tick's body, so there is no reason to fret if the head breaks off during removal.

After removal, keep it in a clean plastic bag and store it in a cool dry place like a refrigerator. Make an appointment with your primary care provider to have the tick identified and tested for any diseases.

Ticks that have not broken the skin or found on pets will not be tested.

For more information including tick removal instructional videos visit www.tickencounter.org or www.cdc.gov/dpdx.

Page last updated Thu July 10th, 2014 at 00:00