Most of us love being outside hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, shooting, running, exercising, even doing yard work.
As relaxing and natural as that may be, there are many potential threats that we must be aware of that could cause injury or illness. One of the most innocuous, yet irritating and potentially deadly threats, are ticks.
A recent CDC report stated that insect-borne diseases transmitted by fleas, mosquitoes, and ticks have almost tripled over the past decade and that tick-borne diseases account for over 75% of these.
It is estimated that every year, there are over a billion tick bites that result in hundreds of thousands of tick-borne illnesses in the United States alone.
Given these statistics, we see that the majority of tick bites are actually harmless and require no medical attention.
However, there are certain times that you do need to see a physician after being bitten by a tick in order to diagnose and treat a potentially serious disease.
Though there are well over a dozen tick-borne diseases, there are only a handful that are the most problematic and could be life-altering or potentially fatal. These are Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis, and Tularemia.
So how do you know when a tick bite is potentially serious and when it isn’t?
According to the CDC, your decision to seek treatment should be based on two things – your symptoms, which we’ll discuss below, and the region of the country in which you were bitten.
When it comes to region of the country, anything east of the Rockies is cause for concern.
There are several varieties of ticks, each being responsible for carrying a particular disease.
Instead of worrying about which tick carries which disease and then attempting to identify the tick that you find, my suggestion is that if you develop a rash, a fever and or chills, and/or aches and pains, see a doctor immediately for further testing and initiation of antibiotics such as doxycycline.
These symptoms may develop within a couple of days of a tick bite or may even take as long as three or four weeks to present.
Even if you find and pull a tick off within minutes of attachment, transmission of disease may still occur. In other words, caution is always the better part of valor.
Rashes seem to be the heralding sign of infection and may range from a “target lesion” with Lyme Disease, to a nonspecific flat and bumpy rash with Ehrlichiosis, to a small petechial dot like rash with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
However, it is important to remember that not all people infected will develop a rash, so keep an eye out for the other symptoms of fever and chills and aches and pains.
The best way to avoid tick-borne diseases is to obviously avoid being bitten. Remember, awareness and prevention is always better than treatment after the fact.
There are several common-sense approaches that you can use to reduce your chances of being bitten by a tick.
When outside in brush or long grass, wear long sleeves and long pants that have been treated with permethrin, use insect repellents on your skin that have a relatively high concentration of DEET and treat your yard with pesticides that kill ticks.
Once you come inside, immediately check yourself or do a buddy check for ticks – particularly in hidden areas around your waistband, groin, belly button, and hair line.
Being outside is fun and healthy, but we’ve always got to remain alert and diligent if we want to stay healthy.