“If people could see what I see, they wouldn’t go outdoors,” Thomas Mather, PhD., Director of the University of Rhode Island’s Center For Vector-Borne Diseases told Consumer Reports recently. Known as The Tick Guy, Mather’s been studying ticks since 1983. He’s observed a recent rise in tick populations. Why this makes Mather opt for staying inside? Ticks are carriers of many diseases.
The Dangers of Tick Bites
Owing to factors like globalization and climatic change, tick populations are exploding globally, not just in America. This, in turn, is triggering a huge spike in Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses. Lyme is one of the treatable and less dangerous diseases they can spread. As ticks acquire infecting pathogens by feeding on infected hosts, they can be carriers of many diseases like Powassan, Babesiosis, Borrelia miyamotoi and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF).
Still, diseases caused by ticks aren’t given as much recognition as they should. The reason may be two-pronged. One, the ability of ticks to spread illnesses is not yet understood due to lack of research. Two, people suffering from tick-borne illnesses don’t look sick. The public mindset is such that people have to be dying for tick-originated illnesses to be considered a huge health problem.
A Tick Pandemic?
Are we witnessing a pandemic? The jury’s still out, but what we do know:
- According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the US increased by more than 17% from 2016 to 2017.
- According to the CDC, 300,000 new cases of Lyme diseases occur every year in US alone, though most of them go unreported.
Ticks are found in all the 50 states of the US and half the counties are considered high-risk areas because up to 60% of ticks in these regions carry infection.
Preventing tick bites
Ticks are most commonly found in and around forests, grassy fields and woods, where they tend to breed and live. When venturing outdoors sticking to wide and open pathways will decrease the possibility of encountering ticks.
Measures you can take to prevent tick bites:
- Use repellents that include DEET or picaridin. Two recommended by Consumer Reports: Total home CVS woodland sent insect repellent and Off Deep Woods Insect Repellent VIII Dry
- If you prefer natural products, use repellents that have essential oils of plants like garlic or rosemary
- Wear full-sleeved dresses and full pants tucked into your socks
- Use outdoor gear treated with permethrin, or spray your clothes and boots with permethrin before venturing out
Even if you’ve been very careful, ticks can attach to your body without you realizing it. After spending time outdoors, check favorite tick resting places: the back of the knee, behind the ears, armpits, belly button, scalp, and groin.
The moment you find a tick, immediately pull it out with a tweezer. In his book Lyme Disease, Dr. Allen Barbeur, professor of Medicine and Microbiology at University of California, Irvine, says, “It takes at least 24 hours for the tick to transfer over the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.”
Check your body for ticks once a day, say in the evening. After taking out any ticks, clean the bite sites with soap and water, then apply anti-bacterial ointment. This is essential as it’s difficult to completely remove parts of the tick that have been inserted into your skin.
After you’ve cleaned the bite, vigilantly check the bite site for a couple of weeks to ensure you haven’t developed an infection. If a welt or rash develops, especially one that looks like a bullseye, or have fever and flu-like symptoms, see a doctor immediately.
Consumer Reports: The
Great American Tick Invasion
CDC: Tickborne Disease Surveillance Data Summary
Medium Elemental: Tickpocalypse
Medium Elemental: Lyme Disease Cases Are Exploding
Medium Elemental: How to Prevent Tick Bites and Lyme Disease
Consumer Reports: Avoid Sunburn, Insect Stings and Other Health Bummers This Summer