Reynolds Army Health Clinic Environmental Health Bugging Out for Ticks

By Joel McfarlandJune 22, 2023

RAHC Environmental Health Tech Noelle Winburn conducts a tick drag in a wooded area of Fort Sill.
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – RAHC Environmental Health Tech Noelle Winburn conducts a tick drag in a wooded area of Fort Sill. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Reynolds Army Health Clinic Environmental Health Tech Pfc. Rebecca Langley examines tick recovered from a tick drag she just conducted.
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Reynolds Army Health Clinic Environmental Health Tech Pfc. Rebecca Langley examines tick recovered from a tick drag she just conducted. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT SILL, OK – Summer is here, and in addition to the heat and stormy weather, mosquitos and ticks are flourishing this year. The Reynolds Army Health Clinic (RAHC) Environmental Health department has been busy surveying Fort Sill and conducting what they call “tick drags” to get a good outlook on the number and density of ticks and other insects in any given area on post. On a warm morning in June, Capt. Katherine Iwanyk Chief of Environmental Health at RAHC, along with members of her Environmental Health team conducted a drag along the edge of a wooded area near the Fort Sill Polo Field and the Patriot Estates housing area. Supervised by Capt. Iwank, Pfc. Rebecca Langley and Ms. Noelle Winburn, two environmental health techs, pulled from the back of their pickup truck two large swaths of white cotton cloth attached to a wooden dowel rod about three feet long. The two techs dragged the cloth along the ground at the edge of the wooded area then closely examined the surface to see what they picked up.

“This season especially is tick season,” said Capt. Iwanyk, “we survey Fort Sill and cover as much area as we can to see how many ticks we capture.” The area yielded several lone star ticks, so named because of the single white spot on their backs, that were not much larger than the tip of the tweezers that were used to collect the insects. “After we finish a tick drag, we get in touch with installation pest control to let them know what our numbers look like and when and where to spray,” continued Iwanyk. “We have Soldiers out doing PT in the morning, basic trainees and even Junior ROTC cadets from local high schools this time of year and we want to make sure we can keep the tick population under control for our Soldiers and family members.”

Another part of Capt. Iwanyk’s job is awareness. “We want make sure that everyone on Fort Sill knows that ticks are in the environment, what species of ticks we have, what potential diseases they carry, and how to control them,” said Iwanyk.  Some examples of common ticks in Oklahoma that feed on humans are, the American dog tick, brown dog tick, and lone star tick. The lone star tick is most commonly encountered by humans during recreational activities on Fort Sill and in Oklahoma. Common tick diseases found in Oklahoma are Rocky Mountain spotted fever, linked to American dog ticks, and Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI), linked to lone star ticks.

If you do find a tick attached to you there is a right and wrong way to remove it. “You want to remove the tick with tweezers a quickly as possible,” said Capt. Iwanyk. According to the U.S. Army Public Health Center you should grasp the tick’s mouthparts as close to the skin as possible using fine pointed tweezers and pull back firmly and steadily until the tick releases. “The tick might feel firmly stuck to the skin because they secrete a cement like substance to keep them in place, so don’t be afraid to pull hard,” stated Capt. Iwanyk, “However, be careful not to squeeze or crush the body of the tick because this may force infective body fluids through the mouthparts and into the bite.”

Contrary to popular opinion ticks do not burrow into the skin, only the barbed, long mouthpart enters the skin. “If you pull back too quickly on the tick this may tear the mouthparts from the tick’s body, leaving them embedded in the skin,” said Iwanyk. “Don’t panic if this happens, she continued, “embedded mouthparts are like having a splinter in your skin and the mouthparts alone cannot transmit disease because the body of the tick is no longer attached, however, to prevent the chance of secondary infection, it is best to remove them and clean the area thoroughly.” Other popular home remedies such has applying petroleum jelly, fingernail polish remover, or placing a lit match close to the skin are not recommend as they are ineffective or could agitate the tick and cause it to force more infective fluid into the body.

If you are having difficulty removing the tick or feel that you need assistance the RAHC Urgent Care Clinic can assist in tick removal during their normal hours of operation. Additionally, the Department of Defense (DoD) has the Military Tick Identification/Infection Confirmation Kit (MilTICK) program that offers free disease testing of any tick that is removed. For more information about tick control and prevention or the MilTICK program please contact the RAHC Environmental Health Department at 580-558-8480.