LANDSTUHL, Germany --- Tick exposure can occur year-round, but due to mild temperatures, Public Health Command Europe officials report an unusually high tick activity early in the year already.
“Ticks can carry several potentially serious diseases,” explained Lt. Col. William Washington, Public Health Command Europe’s Chief of Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance. “The two most common disease ticks transmit is lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis.”
According to Washington, a person with lyme disease may develop fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash.
The red and circular rash is commonly referred to as "bulls-eye" rash but only approximately 70%-80% of infected persons develop the rash.
In most cases, lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics. However, if the disease is left untreated, it can worsen and cause a number of serious problems, to include, facial paralysis and pain and numbness in the hands and feet.
There is currently no Lyme disease vaccine available for humans.
“Tick-borne encephalitis is a human viral infectious disease involving the central nervous system, and occurs in many parts of Europe,” said Washington. “High-risk areas are south-west and southern Germany, as well as most of eastern Europe.”
The virus is transmitted by the bite of infected ticks.
“About two-thirds of people infected with the virus don’t get symptoms. If symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches and nausea do develop, they usually start seven days after being bitten, but can occur up to 28 days later,” said Washington.
TBE can result in serious neurological disease and can be fatal in 1-2% of cases. Of those who survive, a significant number will have ongoing serious problems.
However, there is an effective vaccine available for tick-borne encephalitis.
“TBE is 99% preventable with the TBE vaccine which will likely be available at military medical treatment facilities across the U.S. and Europe in spring 2022,” said Washington. “Currently, service members and beneficiaries can receive the vaccine on the economy by referral.”
Tick bites can occur year round.
"Ticks are most common during spring and summer, when the temperature is higher, but they can be seen earlier in the year depending on the temperature and environmental conditions,” said Lt. Col. Sheryl Pedersen, Chief of PHCE’s Entomology Department. “Ticks can be spotted when the ground temperatures are above 45 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Ticks can be found in forests, wooded areas and even city parks.
Ticks move quickly across the body, but they prefer areas that are warm and moist. They are often found in the armpits, groin, inside the belly button, at the back of the knees or the scalp. Once the tick has found a place it likes, it will bite and burrow its head firmly into the skin.
Pedersen says ticks can be safely removed with tweezers.
"The first thing to do is to make sure you remove it properly," she said. "All you need is a pair of clean, fine-tipped tweezers and simply pull at the mouthparts, or as close to the skin as possible, in a slow steady manner. Don’t pull too abruptly since you can cause the body to disconnect from its head which will remain in your skin and may cause an infection."
Do not use oils and do not burn the tick with a match which are two of the many ideas about how to remove ticks. This will panic the tick, and give it even more time to inject saliva which carries viruses and bacteria that make you sick.
Following removal, you should apply alcohol or an antibiotic ointment.
To reduce the risk of being bitten you should:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when in wooded areas.
- Wear closed shoes -- no bare feet or sandals.
- Use an insect repellent with DEET.
- Don't walk through bushes or tall grass. Stay on marked trails, where possible.
- After being outdoors, check for ticks. Shower and change your clothes.
Protecting yourself from ticks is important, but it is equally important not to forget about your furry family members.
Maj. Christopher Reeves, veterinarian at PHCE, recommends that pets are treated for ticks year-round and encourages pet owners to talk with their local veterinary treatment facility to determine the best tick prevention for your pet.
"Along with tick prevention, pet owners are encouraged to check their pets for ticks daily, especially after they spend time outdoors," Reeves said.
When checking your pet for ticks, don't forget to check these five common places ticks hide on dogs:
- Under the collar: Make sure to remove your dog's collar from time to time and inspect for ticks.
- Groin areas: Make sure to check in the groin area between the back legs and underneath the tail. These are popular spots for ticks to hide.
- Inside of Ears: All the little crevices inside of an ear make it a popular spot for ticks to hang out.
- Between Toes: Spots like between the toes are cozy and not something, that's easy to see - making it a perfect place for a tick to setup camp.
- Near the Eyelids: It can be tricky to tell, which is why around the eyes is one place ticks go unnoticed. If you're not sure, it's best to consult with your Veterinary Treatment Facility.
PHCE offers a free tick surveillance program, which identifies and tests the ticks for the military and beneficiaries.
If you do find a tick on any member of your family, once removed, take the tick to your local medical treatment facility or for your furry friends, to the veterinary treatment facility. Be sure to have information on where you may have been bit and the date it was removed, so PHCE can capture the information.
Please do not send or bring ticks directly to Public Health Command Europe.
For more information on tick-borne illnesses and how to protect yourself and your family, please talk with your primary care manager or your pet's veterinarian.