Health officials urge people to check for ticks
They’re tiny, love blood, and will hitch a ride on anyone or anything for a meal.
Tick season in North Carolina, which typically runs from April through September, is in full swing. Although small in size, these tiny parasites can deliver a mighty bite.
Ticks of different varieties and species are common in North Carolina, but only a few bite and transmit disease to humans.
Most tick-borne diseases in North Carolina are from an infection that can cause flu-like symptoms in people, according to Durham health officials. These illnesses can be treated at home with antibiotics if caught early. Left untreated, they may lead to serious health problems requiring hospitalization and, in rare cases, death. These diseases can be hard for doctors to diagnose. Early recognition and treatment of the infection decreases the risk of serious complications.
“At this time of year, we usually receive an increase in reports of tick-borne illness, and this year has been no exception,” said Susan Thompson, communicable disease program manager for the Durham County Department of Public Health. “We have already had some probable cases and expect to have some confirmed cases before the season ends. Everyone should take precautions against tick bites, especially those who spend lots of time outdoors or in the woods.”
Contrary to popular belief, ticks do not jump, fly or drop from trees, but grasp onto people as they pass through areas where ticks are most often found. Most ticks are picked up on the lower legs and then crawl up the body seeking a place to feed.
The Durham County Department of Public Health has several prevention tips to help residents stay “ticked off” and lower the chance of picking up an unwanted hitchhiker.
- Limit your contact with ticks while outdoors by avoiding wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaves.
- If you have to be outdoors in areas where ticks are found, wear a long-sleeve shirt and long pants, socks, closed-toe shoes and a hat. Wear light-colored clothing so you can see ticks on your clothing. You can treat your clothing with products that contain permethrin. It will remain protective through several washings.
- Use insect repellents that contain 20 percent or more DEET on exposed skin to get protection that lasts up to several hours. Always follow product instructions.
After being outdoors:
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors -- within two hours, if possible.
- To wash off and more easily find ticks that might be crawling on you, conduct a full body tick check using a handheld or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and especially in their hair.
- Don’t forget to examine sport, gardening or camping gear, along with your pets. Ticks can travel into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats and day packs. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.
If a tick is found:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick, as this can cause the mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or soap and water.
- Make sure you write down the date the tick was removed.
- See your doctor or healthcare provider immediately if you have been bitten by a tick and experience any symptoms such as fever/chills, muscle aches and pains, headache, and rash.
Additional tips and recommendations for preventing tick-borne illnesses can be found by visiting http://www.cdc.gov/ticks.
For more information or questions about tick bites and related diseases, contact the Durham County Department of Public Health’s communicable disease program at 919-560-7635.