By Mr. Matt Decker (Leonard Wood)March 10, 2017
Normally, this isn't the time of year to worry about ticks. However, with Missouri's unseasonably warm late-winter weather, ticks and other insects are on the move.
"Ticks, especially seed ticks, considering the mild winter we've had, may very well have overwintered or survived," said Joe Jerek, spokesperson with the Missouri Department of Conservation. "As soon as temperatures get up to this point and we see warmer spring weather, all animals -- from insects to larger mammals -- become more active. So, people do need to be aware of ticks with this warmer weather, along with chiggers, mosquitos, etc."
Missouri's weather is, if anything, unpredictable, and there still is a chance that a cold snap could help alleviate some tick populations. But Jerek said they will likely bounce back quickly.
"(Temperatures) are supposed to dip down again, and it may kill some of the insects that have emerged, but it's more likely that it may cause them to go dormant, especially insects such as ticks," Jerek said. "Anyone who has had to deal with them knows they are tough little critters."
Why worry about ticks?
The main reason ticks are a concern is they transmit disease. In fact, reducing exposure to ticks is the best defense against maladies such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and several other tick-borne illnesses.
According to experts with the Centers of Disease Control, ticks are actually born pathogen free, but because they feed on blood, they often serve as a carrier. If, for example, a tick feeds on an organism infected with a blood-borne pathogen and then feeds on a human, that person will likely acquire the pathogen and become ill.
The good news is that if bitten, you have a window of time to avoid being infected, thanks in part to the mechanics of a tick bite. Ticks have specialized saliva that numbs the bite area and acts as a cementing agent. If the tick is infected, the bacteria takes approximately 24 hours to "reactivate" and get in the tick's saliva. This is good news, because it means a tick must be actively feeding on its host for several hours to transmit a disease.
The Department of Defense advises service members that the best way to prevent tick bites is to use its insect-repellant system. That system is already present in U.S. military uniforms, which are pre-treated with permethrin, a pesticide that kills ticks on contact. Service members should also make sure trouser legs are tucked inside boots, and use a DEET-based insect repellant on any exposed skin.
However, whether you are a service member or civilian, you should check yourself thoroughly any time you come in from the outdoors.
"More than anything, check yourself thoroughly," Jerek said. "You can also prepare ahead of time by using various types of tick repellants, along with appropriate clothing, such as long pants tucked into socks or shoes -- and wear light-colored clothing so you can see ticks more easily. No matter how well you prepare, the best thing to do check yourself thoroughly at the end of the day."
Remove with care
According to the CDC, if you are bitten and the tick has fully attached itself, you should remove it carefully with fine point tweezers.
First, disinfect the surrounding area with an alcohol swab. Next, place tweezers as close to the skin as possible and grasp the tick firmly. Pull straight up slowly until the tick either comes out or breaks.
The infectious material is much further back in the tick's body, so there is no reason to fret if the head breaks off during removal. After removing the tick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people thoroughly clean the bite area and their hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or soap and water.
After removal, keep the tick in a clean plastic bag and store it in a cool, dry place like a refrigerator. Make an appointment with a primary care provider to have the tick identified and tested for any diseases.
The Missouri Department of Conservation has detailed information about the three most common ticks in Missouri on its website at https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/ticks. There, you can learn more about the lone star tick, American dog tick and the deer tick.
For more information on tick removal, including instructional videos, visit www.tickencounter.org or www.cdc.gov/dpdx.
(Editor's note: Information in this story was also provided by www.Army.mil.)