According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (MDHSS), ticks are responsible for more human disease than any other insect.
Ticks become infected with bacteria, viruses, or parasites by feeding on infected mammals or birds. For example, with Lyme disease, a tick might bite an infected field mouse, and later transmit the bacteria to other animals, like a dog or human.
MDHSS warns that several tick-borne diseases have been reported in Missouri: Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia, Q-fever, Lyme or Lyme-like disease, and the southern tick-associated rash illness.
Lyme disease is the most commonly reported tick-borne disease in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 300,000 infections occur yearly.
“The good news is that not all ticks are infected. However, both the CDC and MDHSS urge people to take precautions to reduce their chance of being bitten,” said Dr. Pam Duitsman, nutrition and health specialist, University of Missouri Extension.
Duitsman suggests following some basic tips to reduce the chance of being bitten.
For example, when hiking, walk in the middle of trails and avoid overhanging brush and tall grass. In general, when outdoors, avoid wooded and brushy areas, tall grass, and leaf litter.
Wear light-colored clothing, so spotting ticks is easier. Tuck your pant legs into your socks so that they cannot access your skin.
Use insect repellent containing 20 percent DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on your skin. This will protect for several hours. Parents should apply repellents on their children, avoiding hands, eyes and mouth.
Another repellent called permethrin can be used on clothing, boots, socks and even tents. Permethrin can kill ticks, as well as mosquitoes and chiggers, and may even be protective through several washings if applied to fabric correctly.
Ticks can attach anywhere on the body but are most frequently found around the head, neck, ears, underarms, behind the knees, inside the belly button, around the waist, and groin area.
When back indoors, inspect your skin and children’s skin carefully, as well as clothes, gear and pets. Bathe or shower as soon as possible (within two hours) to wash off or find ticks that may be on you. If a tick has attached to you, remove it immediately. The longer it stays attached, the greater risk of infection.
The CDC says several tick removal devices are available on the market, but a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers will remove a tick effectively.
“Position the tips of tweezers around the area where the tick’s mouthparts enter the skin, then with a slow, steady motion pull the tick away from the skin, without twisting or jerking, since this can break off the tick and allow some of it to remain in the skin,” said Duitsman.
After removal of the tick, disinfect the skin with soap and water, then with rubbing alcohol, or an iodine scrub. Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, or wrapping it tightly in tape. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
CDC suggests before gardening or being outside for work or play, to take preventive measures year-round, but especially during the months April through September, when ticks are most active.
“If you do not remember seeing a tick on your body, or being bitten, but experience an unexpected summer fever or odd rash, or have symptoms related to a tick bite, you may want to see your healthcare provider,” said Duitsman.
MDHSS has prepared a fact sheet for each of the most common tick-borne diseases in Missouri: http://health.mo.gov/living/healthcondiseases/communicable/tickscarrydisease/index.php.
For more information on nutrition contact any of these nutrition specialists in southwest Missouri: Dr. Pam Duitsman in Greene County at (417) 881-8909; Lindsey Gordon Stevenson in Barton County at (417) 682-3579; Stephanie Johnson in Howell County at (417) 256-2391 or Mary Sebade in Dallas County at (417) 345-7551.