John Willoughby: Greene Publishing, Inc.
Unlike other portions of the country, many species of ticks can be found year-round in the state of Florida, and while the heat progresses throughout the summer, it is important to remember what ticks can do and what steps you can take to prevent the after-affect.
According to the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Service (UF/IFAS), five types of ticks inhabit Florida, such as the Brown Dog Tick, feeding mainly on dogs and can infest homes; American Dog Tick, found on dogs, other mammals and humans; Lone Star Tick, a common cause of human bites; Gulf Coast Tick, which is similar to the American Dog Tick with larger mouthparts; and the Black-Legged Tick, which is known as the carrier of Lyme disease, among other diseases.
With a presence in Florida, higher than usual in the summer months, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever(RMSF) is considered the most severe tick-borne disease across the country. Untreated cases are the cause of a high mortality rate, however, treatment with antibiotic doxycycline can prevent death or severe illness. The Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) details that symptoms can include a fever, headache and rash, as well as muscle and stomach pain, lack of appetite, vomiting and nausea. Some cases report that those who recover from severe cases of RMSF have experienced amputation of limbs, hearing loss, paralysis or mental disability.
Related to RMSF and considered a less-severe version, Rickettsia Parkeri is transmitted by the Gulf Coast Tick and Lone Star Tick. Often misdiagnosed, Rickettsia Parkeri is the cause of sores, fever, fatigue, headaches, muscle pain and general rash, according to UF/IFAS. The disease should be treated as RMSF should be treated.
Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis are mostly acquired outside of Florida, but are transmitted by the Lone Star Tick and Black-Legged Tick, respectively. The babesiosis disease is currently not reportable in the state of Florida, according to UF/IFAS. Usually transmitted by the Black-Legged Ticks, the disease is considered an insignificant issue.
Lyme Disease is a well-known effect from a tick bite, carried by the Black-Legged Tick, which is active nearly year-round. Caused by the bacterium Borrelia Burgdorferi, humans can contract the disease with symptoms including fever, headaches, fatigue and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans, according to the CDC. Treatments include a variety of antibiotics for up to 21 days.
The ticks that commonly carry Lyme disease hatch from eggs into larvae in the spring, feed once, molt into nymphs and then go into a dormant stage until the following spring. Then they emerge, feed again and molt into adults. The larval and nymph stages feed on rodents, and this is when the ticks usually become infected. Nymphs and adults feed on larger mammals, including humans, and this is when the infection can be spread to humans.
Studies have shown that nymphs and adult ticks need to be attached at least 24 hours to effectively transmit the pathogen, so anyone who lives in or near a rural area should check daily for ticks and remove them immediately.
Currently, there is no Lyme disease vaccination available. Production was ceased in 2002 and if you were vaccinated before 2003, chances are the vaccines have diminished. Avoiding tick bites is the most effective way to curb the spread.
The CDC offers the following tips for lessening your exposure to ticks:
• When spending any time outdoors, avoid wooded or bushy areas, as well as tall grass and leaf litter. If you're hiking a nature trail, stay in the center of the trail. Ticks hang out in high vegetation, waiting for a warm-blooded meal – namely, you – to pass by. If your leg brushes up against these areas, ticks can transfer to your body.
• Use insect repellant. A product with 20 percent DEET can be used on both exposed skin and clothing. Be very careful when applying this product to your face; use your hands to very carefully apply it around, but not in, your eyes and mouth. Apply in wide circles around the eye/mouth area, avoiding the eyelids and lips.
• For clothing and gear (tents, bedrolls, day packs, hiking boots, camp chairs and other camping essentials) use permethrin products. These are sold under such names as Duranon and Permanone, and remain effective through several washings. Follow all directions on the package pertaining to application and DO NOT use permethrin products on bare skin; best if applied to the outside of clothing.
• Wear long pants with sneakers or hiking boots. Tuck your pants leg into your socks and keep your shirt tucked into your waistband. If you're hiking/working in an area where ticks are prevalent, consider wrapping duct tape around the top of your socks as well. It may look dorky, but it works.
• Avoid areas where tick populations are so high even the bug repellant doesn't seem to do more than slow them down. If you walk a few feet into a wooded area or field and find ticks crawling up your pants leg, make a hasty retreat.
• Shower as soon as you come in, or at least within a couple of hours, to wash off any ticks crawling on you, and check for others that may have attached. Use hand mirrors and full-length mirrors to check your back, or have someone do it for you.
• Check pets and children before turning them loose in the house. Ticks can hitch a ride inside on fur and clothing and drop off onto carpets or furniture, where they will lie in wait for another blood meal to come along. Also, you don't want ticks laying eggs and reproducing in your house.
• Put your clothes in a dryer on high heat. Most ticks can make it through the washing machine, even if you wash in very hot water, but the hot, dry air of the drying cycle should do them in.
• If you have discovered a tick on your body, you should remove it immediately. Tweezers are in order to help remove the tick, however, do not try to burn the tick off or use petroleum jelly as the tick can release fluids into your body before it is removed.
• If you have been bitten by ticks in the past, had some flu-like symptoms afterward, and never really felt right since then, ask your doctor about checking for Lyme disease or any of the aforementioned diseases.
For Lyme disease, symptoms can take up to four weeks to develop after the initial bite, and then they tend to come and go as the condition worsens. As it progresses, it will involve other body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and others. Joint pain, headaches, muscle weakness, dizziness and other symptoms develop over time.
Depending on the type of lab tests used, it may take multiple testing to detect the pathogen; the disease can be frustratingly difficult to diagnose and doctors usually have to be prepared to make a diagnosis based on clinical evidence, symptoms and whether or not the patient has traveled in areas where ticks and Lyme disease are prevalent. Some Lyme disease experts even recommend preventative courses of antibiotics after exposure to a tick bite, a recommendation that is not universally accepted.
For more information on ticks and diseases, visit www.CDC.gov.