Rock Island Arsenal, Ill. – It seems that cold weather is finally in the rearview mirror, and folks can safely pack away the snow boots for the season. Warm weather is a welcome change for those living and working on Rock Island Arsenal, and folks are already exploring the numerous trails and campgrounds located along the Mississippi River… but they aren’t alone.
Say hello to some annoying little friends looking to latch onto the fun, as well as the people and pets having it: Ticks.
According to experts, the tick season (which traditionally runs from April to July) is severe this year, with the season extending into September and a higher population of ticks overall looking to hitch a ride with a host.
“Continuing a trend that we've seen over the past several years, this year's tick season is likely to be severe,” said Saravanan Thangamani, professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University and director of the SUNY Center for Environmental Health and Medicine, in a recent interview on the Today Show.
It’s still too early to predict what this season might hold for tick-borne diseases, he said, but he’s already seen a 43% increase in the number of ticks submitted for testing compared to last spring.
In Illinois, there are at least 15 species of ticks, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. However, people and pets likely encounter only a few of these ticks who can pack a punch with their bite: The American dog tick, the lone star tick, and the blacklegged (deer) tick. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t others out there because, according to experts, ticks are on the move.
In the past, ticks tended to stay in their own regional environments. Now, they are migrating to new locations around the country where they have never been a concern before. Experts say this vastly widens the exposure of not only the more commonly known tick-borne diseases, but introduces previously unseen health-related conditions into communities.
“Tick habitats are changing and expanding as well,” Thangamani said. “We are actually seeing ticks in areas that never reported ticks before,” he explained. “And I think this trend is going to continue.”
What exactly IS at tick, and are they around RIA?
According to Capt. William A. Nuessle, who works at the Office of the Command Surgeon for the U.S. Army Sustainment Command on RIA, “Ticks are relatives of spiders and insects, which reproduce by feeding on the blood of animals which can include humans,” he said. “That being unpleasant enough, they can also be a vector for spreading tick-borne diseases. A few of these are Lyme disease, babesiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), and Tularemia. Alpha-gal Syndrome may also occur, in which the tick bite may induce an allergy to red meat. The most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the U.S. is Lyme disease and the incidence is increasing every year.”
The IDPH reports these are ticks commonly found around the arsenal:
American dog tick - One of the most frequently encountered ticks is the American dog tick, also sometimes known as the wood tick. The adult will feed on humans and medium to large mammals, such as raccoons and dogs. In Illinois, the adults are most active in April, May and June. By September, the adults are inactive and rarely observed. It can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia and possibly ehrlichiosis to humans.
The lone star tick - The lone star tick is most active from April through the end of July. Although it can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, the lone star tick is not as likely to transmit the disease as the American dog tick. This tick also may transmit tularemia and ehrlichiosis to humans. The lone star tick is not believed to transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi), but may be associated with a related bacteria species that has not been completely identified.
The black-legged tick / deer tick - All three active stages of the blacklegged / deer tick will feed on a variety of hosts, including people. Adults are reddish-brown and about 1/8-inch long (or about one-half the size of the more familiar female American dog tick). Found in wooded areas along trails, they can transmit Lyme disease, babesiosis and possibly ehrlichiosis to humans. The deer tick has been found sporadically in many Illinois counties. However, in recent years it has been common only in limited areas, mostly in northern Illinois.
Ways to avoid getting ‘ticked’ off
Nuessle says there are ways to reduce your risk of being bitten by a tick and promotes the idea that the best defense is a good offense.
“Reduce the habitat which ticks prefer by cutting back wooded areas (to include wood piles) and removing any high grass (keep lawn mowed to less than three inches), weeds, leaf litter and undergrowth from around your home,” he said. “Additionally, avoid placing picnic tables, lawn furniture, and children’s play areas near woods, scrubs, and undergrowth where ticks may reside.”
According to Nuessle, application of pesticides for tick control is found to be less effective than modifying the habitat using the techniques above, and may cause additional concerns with children and pets.
“For individuals living on post, consult Preventive Medicine and DPW to survey the area for ticks to assist in determining if chemical control is needed,” he said. “Off-post personnel should consider hiring a pest control professional.”
Experts advise checking your body for ticks after being outdoors. Conduct a full body check upon return from potentially tick-infested areas, including your own backyard. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Check these parts of your body and your child’s body for ticks:
o Under the arms
o In and around the ears
o Inside belly button
o Back of the knees
o In and around the hair
o Between the legs
o Around the waist
What to do if you find a tick on you or a family member
So, you find a tick firmly attached to you or a loved one. What’s the next step?
Nuessle says proper removal of the tick is very important. He says the best method is using a sharp pair of tweezers, grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible and gently pulling backward, and away, from the flesh, doing your best not to rupture the tick. This will minimize the risk of you and the bitten individual being exposed to any infected tick fluid.
He also cautions against using nail polish, nail polish remover, other chemicals, or a lit match in an attempt to have the tick detach. Lastly, apply antibiotic ointment to the bite site, after washing with soap and water.
Once removed, it is preferred that one not damage the tick, as it can make it more difficult to identify or test the tick for diseases. The final step is to submit to MilTICK as soon as possible.
What is MilTICK
For those who live and work on RIA, MilTICK is a free tick testing and identification service available for ticks removed from Department of Defense personnel and their family members living in the continental United States. Formerly known as the DoD Human Tick Test Kit Program, this service is provided by the Laboratory Sciences Directorate at the Army Public Health Center located at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
Any tick found biting an eligible person may be submitted to MilTICK by health care providers through tick kits available at DoD health care facilities, or by individuals through a simple mail-in process. Ticks will be identified as to species, assessed for how long they have been attached, and tested for human pathogens. The results will be reported back to the point of contact provided on the MilTICK form, and will be used to assess the risk of tick-borne disease to Military personnel.
Those eligible for this service include: Active Duty Service Members; National Guard personnel; Reservists in all Services; Civilian personnel working for the DoD or any of the Services (including Army Corps of Engineers); Contractors supporting the DoD or any of the Services; Retired Service Members; and family members, including spouses, parents, or children of all above categories.
For additional information, or to request tick kits or services, contact the Tick-borne Disease Laboratory
by phone at (410) 436-5421 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.