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Tick-Borne Diseases

Prevent Tick-Borne Disease

Reprinted from The Mena Star, 7-20-2000

With a hot summer underway, many Arkansans involved in outdoor activities will have firsthand experiences with unpleasant little critters called ticks.

Last winter was mild, meaning few ticks were killed by freezing weather. Nobody makes a census of ticks, but field personnel of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, U.S. Forest Service and other workers who spend time in grassy areas and in woods agree that ticks are exceptionally plentiful right now.

Arkansas has three basic species of ticks - wood (or "dog"), lone star, and deer ticks. Tick bites are relatively harmless in themselves, creating minor, itching irritations on the skin. However, ticks can transmit dangerous diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia and Lyme disease.

Ticks spend the winter as adults, crawling under bark and leaf litter to withstand the cold. During normal winters, a percentage of these die from exposure to cold weather. When temperatures are relatively warm, a large population survives to reproduce. Eggs are laid, with each female producing up to 5,000 eggs. These hatch to produce tiny arachnids known as larvae, or "seed ticks." The larvae attack warm-blooded animals several times to feed on blood before eventually becoming adults.

Ticks can neither jump nor fly and must rely on finding a passing host. This makes humans vulnerable as they hike through grass, heavy vegetation and woods where ticks reside. Wood and lone star ticks are commonly encountered in fields, meadows, and city parks. Deer ticks, which are most often the culprits in spreading Lyme disease, are usually restricted to heavy woodland cover and undergrowth.

Preventing tick bites should be taken seriously, said Marc Kilburn, outreach programs coordinator for the Game and Fish Commission. "Several steps can help to avoid problems when working or playing outdoors," he said. "Wear boots, socks, and long pants to cover the skin. If possible, tuck pant cuffs into socks. Permethrin sprays applied to hiking or hunting clothes are highly effective in repelling ticks. This treatment should be applied three to four hours before the clothes are worn, allowing it to dry. It should not be applied to the skin. Permethrin is a tick-killing insecticide that works on clothes for about two weeks under normal conditions. Be sure to read label directions for use with children."

Treat exposed skin with a good insect repellent. Lotion formulations work longer than spray-ons because they evaporate more slowly.

Repellents containing DEET work best on ticks and are available in various concentrations up to 95 percent although 25-30 percent formulations are most common.

Most repellents work for two to three hours under normal conditions. If you’ll be out all day, refresh the repellent as needed, remembering that sweating can reduce its efficiency. If used with sunscreen, apply insect repellent thirty minutes to one hour after the sunscreen.

After returning from an outdoor hike, check carefully for ticks on your skin. Generally, it takes several hours for a tick to select a site and bite deeply enough to transmit disease. If a tick is stuck, remove it by grasping its head with tweezers and pulling straight up. Clean the bite area with hydrogen peroxide. Watch the site carefully for thirty days for a possible bullseye rash to develop, which might indicate Lyme disease.

Or, if flu-like symptoms appear within that time, visit your doctor.


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