Protect yourselves from tick bites this season

By Chanel S. Weaver, Public Affairs Office, U.S. Army Public Health CommandJune 6, 2013

Lone Star Tick
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Deer Tick
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Civilian furloughs are not the only side effect of sequestration.

Individuals living and working on Installation Management Command installations may notice that the grass is a little higher than normal in some areas.

Army operation and maintenance accounts have been reduced and as a result, mowing operations have also been reduced at many posts.

What represents a lessened workload for public works employees creates abundant employment for some on-post residents--the ones with eight legs and the potential to cause serious human and animal disease.

Ticks can thrive in long grasses, according to Ellen Stromdahl, an entomologist at the U.S. Army Public Health Command who manages DOD's Human Tick Test Kit Program.

Although most ticks are not infected with human diseases, some ticks in the United States can carry such diseases as Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and viral diseases.

Infected ticks have to attach to a person and remain on that individual for a long period of time (one to three days) in order to transmit most diseases, Stromdahl said.

One of the first things people can do to prevent a tick bite is to recognize tick habitat, and avoid it.

"Ticks stay in, or on the edge of, shady, brushy areas," said Stromdahl. "You can find them in tall grass--especially in wooded areas. They need layered shade and moist air."

Stromdahl also recommends the use of insect repellent to prevent tick bites.

"For maximum protection, use DEET repellent on your skin, and permethrin repellent on your clothing," said Stromdahl. "Permethrin-treated clothing is the best defense against tick bites. When ticks touch the treated fabric, they try to get away as quickly as possible. If they stay on the treated fabric, they die."

Permethrin clothing spray can be found in hunting sections of stores, and permethrin-treated clothing is available from major outdoor clothing suppliers.

Another step to preventing tick bites involves checking belongings.

"If you have been in tick habitat, leave your shoes outside and don't leave your clothes near your bed," said Stromdahl. "You'll be giving ticks the whole night to find you. Ticks may survive on clothes in the washing machine, but a hot cycle in the dryer will kill ticks."

Stromdahl also recommends bathing or showering as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on the body.

Army preventive medicine experts say that prompt removal of a tick is one way to reduce risk of disease transmission.

"When patients locate an engorged tick on them, they should not panic and should take their time to remove the tick properly," said Staff Sgt. Arvey Jones, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the preventive medicine section of the Kirk Army Clinic, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. "If you remove attached ticks promptly, you can prevent tick-borne disease."

In order to remove a tick, Stromdahl recommends certain guidelines.

"Remove the tick with tweezers," said Stromdahl. "Do not burn it or use soap, gasoline, Vaseline or other chemicals. Once the tick is removed, thoroughly cleanse the bite with alcohol and apply antibiotic ointment to the bite."

Most tick bites cause irritation and itching immediately, but Stromdahl said this does not indicate disease transmission.

Finally, Stromdahl says ticks that have been removed from people should be saved for identification and testing. Military personnel and Department of Defense civilians should place the tick in a jar or ziplock bag, and take it to the local military medical treatment facility. The MTF will forward the tick to the U.S. Army Public Health Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

The USAPHC will identify the ticks and then perform disease testing of the tick through the DOD Human Tick Test Kit Program. The results of identification will be reported to the submitting MTF upon receipt of the tick, and test results (negative and positive) will be reported within a week.

Related Links:

Environmental Protection Agency

U.S. Army Public Health Command's DOD Human Tick Test Kit Program

Physician's Reference Manual from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

University of Rhode Island