By Capt. Angela L. Brewer, Chief, Environmental Health Clinic, Kenner Army Health ClinicOctober 5, 2017
FORT LEE, Va. (Oct. 5, 2017) -- Due to the milder winter last year, this summer had more ticks than usual.
And even while the fall season has begun, individuals still need to take precautions when enjoying outdoor activities while warm weather continues.
People may not realize, but most vector-borne diseases are tick-borne. Infections from these diseases are on an increase and the geographic ranges of ticks also are expanding. Reducing exposure and eliminating habitats is the best course of action to protect adults and children.
The Blacklegged tick, Lone star tick and the American dog tick cause most human diseases. Most ticks found on Fort Lee and the local area are Lone star ticks and can possibly carry diseases, such as Ehrlichiosis, Tularemia and Heartland virus. 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 disease free. The tick feeds on a host organism infected with a blood-borne pathogen. The organism is ingested into the tick thus becoming the vector of the disease. If the vector feeds on a human for its next meal, then that person could acquire the pathogen and become ill. Not all organisms are infected, and not all vectors carry diseases. If the tick is infected, the pathogen takes approximately 24 hours to "reactivate" and get into the tick's saliva. 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. A tick must be actively feeding on you for several hours to transmit a disease.
Prevention strategies include personal protection, environmental modification and tick suppression. The DOD insect repellent system is the service member's personal protection method. A properly worn uniform is the best defense. All uniforms are now pre-treated with permethrin, which kills ticks on contact. Uniforms must be worn properly with the trouser tucked inside the boots. Also, application of a DEET-based insect repellent to any exposed skin will provide an additional layer of defense.
Off-duty service members, civilians and their families can use the same principles as well. 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 treat civilian clothing. A well landscaped yard or area surrounding buildings is an example of environmental modification. A smart landscaping tip would be to make the yard less attractive to ticks. For example, short grass and bright sunlight help reduce the tick populations in yards or on golf courses. Remove leaves branches and debris that will eliminate hiding places for ticks as well as their hosts. Install some type of barrier along the perimeters of child development centers or create gravel or wood chip pathways through wooded areas. Tick suppression is simply the application of pesticides or reducing or eliminating the hosts that ticks seek for blood meals, i.e. deer.
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 to take the tick to your primary care provider. The PCM has procedures in place with Environmental Health to have the tick identified and tested for the presence of diseases.
Ticks that have not broken the skin or found on pets will not be tested.
For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/ticks/index.html. A kids' resource can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/resources/DontletTicksbitemeComicGenericFS_508.pdf.