It used to be that hiking in Great Falls or up Sugarloaf Mountain, you might bring home a few unwanted hitchhikers in the form of ticks. But it seems that recently ticks have started coming out of the woodwork, and even the least outdoorsy amongst us is at risk for contracting Lyme disease. So why the “ticking” time bomb? Since the Centers for Disease Control first started keeping records of Lyme disease infection back in 1991, the rates of the disease have skyrocketed to about 300,000 a year. And now that we’re heading into the summer months, the DMV is in the thick of tick season.
If you or your pets spend any time enjoying the great outdoors, it’s important to stay in-the-know about preventive measures and signs of infection. It’s time to start talking about these disease-carrying creatures.
What Are Ticks?
A member of the arachnid family (along with spiders), ticks are part of a diverse group that includes hundreds of species. Many of these critters carry bacteria or viruses that can disrupt the human body. Residing in wooded, grassy areas, ticks seek out hosts on which to feed, and then transmit the diseases they carry to their next victim.
Time for Lyme-aid
There is a theory that since there is less woodlands than there used to be, the animals that used to live in the wild are now living in our own backyards. When ticks fall off these animals, they practically wind up on our doorstep, bringing Lyme disease and other diseases with them.
Lyme disease, transmitted by the black-legged (aka deer) tick, is all too common in animals and people, and those who have contracted this disease will experience a host of unpleasant effects that are often mistaken for flu or Bell’s palsy. Symptoms include fatigue, fever, headache, paralysis, and a skin rash known as erythema migrans. Luckily, a course of antibiotics can usually treat more mild cases of Lyme. Performing regular tick checks and removing a tick with tweezers as soon as it is noticed are two important factors when it comes to preventing Lyme disease.
The Longhorned Tick
Of late, we are seeing a new exotic species of tick known as the East Asian, or Longhorned tick, and it is heading south from the New York tri-state area to our own DMV. This invasive species was first spotted in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, and was strong enough to thrive through a blustery winter – somewhat surprising for a species that typically does best in balmy weather.
This parasitic arachnid has caused quite a commotion in both Asia and Australia, where whole herds of cattle are being wiped out because of them. The Longhorned tick carries what is known as thrombocytopenia syndrome (SFTS), which causes fever, gastrointestinal symptoms, muscular pains, and neurological abnormalities. The Longhorned tick has also been known to spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever and anaplasmosis.
Preventing Tick Marks
Researchers have set forth several preventive guidelines we can follow to keep these ticks in check. It’s not that easy to change where you live, but you can tread carefully. Stay on cleared, well-traveled trails, be cautious when spending time in wooded areas or tall grass, and dress for the occasion; long pants with socks and shoes are ideal (especially in light colors that contrast with the color of ticks). The repellant known as permethrin is proven highly effective for keeping ticks at bay, and can be found in local sporting goods and tack shops. After playing or working in wooded areas, conduct a tick check and shower within two hours if possible.
If you make these regular habits, you’re far less likely to contract an tick-borne illness. Should you find a tick on your body, remove it immediately using tweezers. It may be beneficial to save the specimen in a sealed container in case you should become symptomatic.