Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ticks and Lyme Disease

This Friday, June 18th, I’m participating in Farm Safety Day, teaching about ticks, their diseases, and how best to protect yourself from them. I thought it would be a good idea to put up a blog post as a reference point. It was also timely that Dr. Raupp, who sponsors the “Bug of the Week” report from the University of Maryland (see link to the right) covered ticks in this week’s entry. From his article:
The black-legged tick, Ixodes scapularis, is an important carrier of Lyme disease in our area while on the west coast the western black-legged tick, Ixodes pacificus, is the culprit. Lyme disease can be a serious debilitating disease. In the short-term flu-like symptoms including headache, fever, fatigue, and an unmistakable bulls-eye rash called erythema migrans usually accompany a case of Lyme disease. An untreated infection becomes more serious when the bacterium moves to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. The culprit behind Lyme disease is a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. Borrelia is transmitted by ticks from mammals like mice to humans. The northeastern region of our country is a hotbed for black-legged ticks and often leads the nation in the annual number of cases of Lyme disease. The number of Lyme disease cases rises dramatically in May and June, peaks in July and August, and declines in autumn.

One fascinating study suggests that as populations of small mammals like white-footed mice and chipmunks increase, tick populations also increase, thereby elevating the risk of tick bites and the potential for Lyme disease in humans. Greater abundance of small mammals like mice and chipmunks follow years in which oak trees produce bumper crops of acorns in a phenomenon called masting. White-tailed deer are frequently implicated with ticks and Lyme disease; however, researchers found deer to be less important contributors to the risk of Lyme disease than populations of small mammals. When it comes to Lyme disease, blame the mighty mouse and the mighty oak more than Bambi.
The simple acronym, AIR, for Avoid, Inspect, and Remove is a good way to remember what to do about ticks.
Avoid ticks and their bites in the following ways. If you enter habitats where wildlife and ticks are suspected such as grassy meadows, boarders of fields and woodlands, and vegetation along the banks of streams, wear long pants and light colored clothing. This will help you spot ticks on your clothes as they move up your body. Tuck your pant legs into your socks. This forces ticks to move up and over your cloths rather than under them where tasty skin awaits. Apply repellents labeled for use against ticks. Some are applied directly to skin, but others can only be applied to clothing. If repellents are used, be sure to read the label, follow directions carefully, and heed precautions particularly those related to children. Inspect yourself and your family thoroughly if you have been in tick habitats. This may involve enlisting a helper to view those "hard to see" areas around back. Remove ticks promptly if you find them. Removal within the first 24 hours can greatly decrease your risk of contracting a disease. If you find a tick attached, firmly grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible using a pair of fine forceps and slowly, steadily pull the tick out. Cleanse the area with antiseptic. The CDC and the Bug-Guy do not recommend methods of tick removal such as smearing the tick with petroleum jelly or scorching its rear end with a match. Cases of Lyme disease are the most common in children and seniors so take special care to keep kids of all ages safe when they play outdoors.

The University of Rhode Island sponsors a very good website, containing all sorts of good information about ticks and their diseases. Below is a video demonstration on how to remove a tick from their website.

A bull's eye rash is one of the characteristic symptoms of Lyme disease

UPDATE:  The pesticide education blog at Penn State also has a good post up about ticks with some good links at the end of the post directing you to more good information.  I added a link to their blog to the link list to the right.

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