Friday, June 8, 2007

Tick and Tick-borne Diseases

Every year we receive numerous calls regarding ticks. I received this information from Mike Waldvogel and Charles Apperson, Extension Entomologist from North Carolina State University. I hope this will answer many of your questions. If you have additional questions please give us a call.

It's summer... it's hot..... it's North Carolina. That means ticks are
abundant in many areas and there is an equally abundant concern
about tick-borne illnesses. In North Carolina, we had more than 466
confirmed cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and at least 14
confirmed cases of Lyme Disease (these statistics include Jan-Oct
of 2006).

What we also know is that there are no magic fixes to tick problems
but there are measures (both chemical and non-chemical) that people
can use to reduce tick infestations around their property and to
protect themselves and their family:

First - pets that spend all or part of their time outdoors need to be
protected for their own safety and also so that they don't serve as a
local reservoir for ticks. There are already enough *potential* sources
out there with deer, rodents, other wild mammals including feral cats
and dogs, plus ground-nesting birds. You can treat kennels/pens and
other other yard areas but please exercise extreme caution about
allowing the animals (or your kids) into treated areas before the surfaces
dry (or before any time interval specified on the pesticide label). As dry
as conditions have been lately throughout much of the state, coverage
becomes even more important. In these situations, outdoor treatments
are probably best done using a garden hose sprayer. Consult the
Ag. Chemicals Manual AND your veterinarian for information about
products suitable for area and specific pet treatments:

Second - habitat modification:
Ticks will be more abundant in areas frequented by wild animals.
These areas are typically overgrown and weedy or covered with leaf
litter and particularly during those hot summer months - they're often
well-shaded places where the animal rests. Try to keep the ground
cover in these areas trimmed back as much as possible. Keep
leaf litter and other debris out from under and around picnic tables.

Third - personal protection:
- Whenever possible, avoid likely tick-inhabited areas (i.e., those tall
weedy areas we mentioned previously)
- Apply repellents to your clothing, particularly shoes, socks and
pants. If you're wearing shorts you can also spray your ankles
and calves. Be careful about using (or overusing) repellents on small
children. We have information about repellents at:
- If you wear long pants while working or hiking outdoors (not many
people hike indoors), tuck the pants' legs into your socks.
If you're the type of person who worries about looking like a dork,
stop worrying you probably do look like one regardless of whether
you tuck in your pants legs. Besides, you may start a new fashion
- Inspection - when your kids come inside from playing outdoors
check them over carefully for ticks (it works for chimpanzees!)
Likewise, if you've spent time working in your garden or taking a hike,
spend some additional valuable time checking yourself thoroughly for
any hitchhiking ticks. You can also have someone else check you
over carefully in which case you might also want to open a bottle of
a nice 2004 Cabernet and play that Barry White CD.

Fourth - If you find a tick on yourself, your children or your pets:
- Remove the tick carefully by grasping it firmly with tweezers or with
a tissue (not with your bare fingers). Pull until it dislodges. This is
generally considered to be the best method ot tick removal as opposed
to using lit matches, oil (motor or mineral), detergent or some other
chemical to try to dislodge the tick.
- Wash the bite area with soap and water and then apply an antiseptic
such as alcohol.
- Record the date of the tick bite on a calendar. Then, watch for any
symptoms within the next 10-14 days and contact your doctor if
Tick-borne disease symptoms are described in our online publication:
Test your tick??
One of the questions frequently asked is whether there are labs that
can test ticks for the pathogens that cause Lyme Disease, Rocky
Mountain Spotted Fever, Erhlichiosis, etc.

The following webpage at the Rhode Island Dept. of Health lists *private*
labs that will perform fee-based tests for the *Lyme Disease* pathogen only.
There is at least one lab that will perform tests for several tick-borne
disease pathogens:
We're not saying these are the only labs performing these tests. These
are simply labs that we've found information about. Also, we are not
endorsing the services provided by any of these companies or others
that may provide tick testing services.

Anyone interested in this information must read the specific instructions
given by the labs about the testing procedures. Some of the labs may
perform tests only on particular tick species which goes back to the
basic point of why identifying the tick is important.
Now... all of that said, there are some important facts to consider
before you rush to spend $60-$100 for these tick tests.
Note the disclaimer posted at the bottom of RI website. It's important
to bear in mind that the results of these tests are NOT a diagnosis of
tick-borne illness in the person who *may* have been bitten by the
suspect tick. In other words, just because the tick tests positive for a
pathogen or even multiple organisms, it does not mean that they
transmitted the organisms while feeding (assuming that the tick had
indeed fed before it was discovered). Typically, pathogen transmission
requires 6-36 hours of feeding by the tick (depending on tick species
and the particular pathogen). The results of such tests may alert the
person's doctor to specific tick-borne diseases, the symptoms to
watch for and the potential health risks to that patient. In some cases,
this may be helpful by reducing unnecessary prescription of preventive
antibiotic treatments. BUT, we need to emphasize that common sense
and the tick-prevention steps outlined above are far more important of
as priorities than relying on some analytical test to determine if a tick
might be carrying disease organisms.
You can find additional information about ticks and tick-borne diseases
at the following sites (which also have additional links):

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