Now that the weather is warmer, it’s time to start thinking about ticks. And they are abundant this year.
These oval-shaped parasites- no bigger than a pencil eraser- can not only latch onto your skin, drink your blood and balloon to the size of a grape, but make you ill or even kill you.
State health officials are cautioning people to protect themselves from ticks – small, eight-legged creatures often found in naturally vegetated areas or woodlands – that are now actively seeking a blood meal.
“Now that it’s warmer outside, ticks are active, and people are more likely to be exposed to them,” said Jennifer House, veterinary epidemiologist at the Indiana State Department of Health. “Ticks are carriers of a number of diseases, and all ticks should be considered infectious and capable of transmitting diseases, even though some are not.”
Last year in Indiana, ticks caused 63 confirmed cases of Lyme disease, two cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and 19 cases of ehrlichiosis.
House said Lyme disease is often associated with a persistent, slowly expanding blotchy red rash that is usually fainter at the center than at the edges. Other signs and symptoms include joint pain, especially in the knees or weakness of the facial muscles.
The symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis are similar. They include a fever, coupled with fatigue, muscle aches and pains, severe headache and chills. A rash may also develop shortly after onset – first appearing on the arms, legs, palms of the hands and soles of the feet before spreading to other parts of the body. The rash is not present in all cases.
House said if you plan to enter a grassy or wooded area where ticks are often present, the best way to protect yourselves from ticks is with insect repellents containing DEET or picaridin. People who expect to be exposed to ticks for extended periods of time should use products containing permethrin on their clothing, but not on bare skin. Permethrin is an insecticide that kills ticks and other insects on contact.
House said after leaving a grassy or wooded area, people should check for ticks on their clothing and skin. Ticks must be attached for several hours to a couple of days before they can infect an individual.
“Ticks can be safely removed if they are attached to your skin,” House said. “They can be removed with either tweezers or forceps by grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible and pulling upward with steady and even pressure without squeezing the tick. Don’t remove ticks with your fingers, but if tweezers or forceps are not available, you can use tissue paper or a paper towel to prevent the passing of any possible infection.”
For more information about tick-borne disease prevention, visit the Indiana State Department of Health’s website at www.StateHealth.in.gov. House said if you become ill after removing a tick from your skin, you should see a medical provider immediately. Tick-borne diseases can be successfully treated with antibiotics.