Imagine, if you will, an animal born in the woods of Door County that, after hatching from an egg, must have blood to survive, and it does not care where it comes from – amphibians, birds, reptiles and mammals are all fair game for this insatiable blood sucker.
Once it has found its victim, the animal inserts a barbed feeding tube into its live meal, and through the process of feeding – which can take from 10 minutes to two hours – small amounts of the animal’s saliva enter the skin of the host, infecting the host with whatever pathogens are in the aggressor.
A horror writer couldn’t make this stuff up.
Meet the tick. While there are hundreds of tick species, three of them are transmitters of human disease, and all three are found in Wisconsin – the blacklegged tick (or deer tick), American dog tick (or wood tick) and the Lone star tick (which is a recent immigrant to Wisconsin).
Ticks are most famous for spreading Lyme disease, but they also carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis and the Powassan virus, which killed a woman in Maine last year. In fact, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the U.S. National Library of Medicine, at least 38 viral species are transmitted by ticks.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) receive about 30,000 reports of Lyme disease every year, and they think that is just the tip of the iceberg, with as many as 10 times the number of cases going unreported.
There have been numerous reports that conditions were perfect for a large tick population this season.
“The CDC has said this may be a bad year for the ticks due to our warmer weather,” said Rhonda Kolberg, director of the Door County Public Health Dept. “People really need to make sure that when they go outside, they prevent themselves from getting exposures to ticks. There are certain things you can do, such as wear long pants or tuck your socks over your pants. Spray with a repellent. Also, if you are out in the woods with taller grasses, when you come home, check yourself for ticks and take a shower. For Lyme disease, ticks have to be attached for 24 hours, but ticks do have other diseases you can get quicker than 24 hours. It’s best to check yourself over.”
She also recommends treating pets with a tick repellent when they go outside. Even pets can come down with Lyme disease, but Kolberg pointed out that at least there is a vaccine for dogs, but there is not one for humans.
She said anyone who wants to know more about ticks and tick-borne diseases should check the CDC or the state Dept. of Health Services websites.
“They have some really good information on preventing tick-borne illness,” she said.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about ticks is how to remove them if they do insert their barbed feeding tube into your skin. All sources say you should avoid folk remedies such as touching the tick with a lit match and “painting” the tick with nail polish, or applying rubbing alcohol or petroleum jelly to make the tick detach from the skin. The application of petroleum jelly, fingernail polish, 70 percent isopropyl alcohol, or a hot kitchen match failed to induce detachment of adult American dog ticks attached for either 12 to 15 hours or three to four days. These methods are not effective and may cause the tick to regurgitate into the bite wound.
You do want to remove the tick as quickly as possible. Do not wait for it to detach by itself. The risk of Lyme disease is reduced if removed within 36 hours but not necessarily the other pathogens transmitted by these ticks.
The best technique for removing ticks is to use a fine-tipped tweezers to pull the bug straight out of your skin.
How to Repel Ticks on Skin and Clothing
- Use repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes and mouth.
- Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and may be protective longer.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an online tool to help you select the repellent that is best for you and your family (epa.gov/insect-repellents/find-insect-repellent-right-you).
Find and Remove Ticks from Your Body
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
- Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
- Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs.
- Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed. If the clothes require washing first, hot water is recommended. Cold and medium temperature water will not kill ticks effectively. If the clothes cannot be washed in hot water, tumble dry on low heat for 90 minutes or high heat for 60 minutes. The clothes should be warm and completely dry.
If A Tick Bites You
- Don’t squeeze, twist or squash it. Don’t burn it with a match or cover it with Vaseline.
- Use fine-point tweezers or a special tick-removing tool. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. If you don’t have tweezers, protect your fingers with a tissue.
- Pull the tick straight out with steady, even pressure.
- Disinfect the bite area and wash your hands.
- Save the tick for testing (alive if possible) in a small bottle or plastic bag with a green leaf or damp piece of tissue.
- Label it with your name, date, site of bite and how long tick was attached.
Symptoms of Tick-borne Illnesses
- Fever/chills: With all tick-borne diseases, patients can experience fever at varying degrees and time of onset.
- Aches and pains: Tick-borne disease symptoms include headache, fatigue, and muscle aches. With Lyme disease you may also experience joint pain. The severity and time of onset of these symptoms can depend on the disease and the patient’s personal tolerance level.
- Rash: Lyme disease, southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), ehrlichiosis, and tularemia can result in distinctive rashes.
- Tick-borne diseases can result in mild symptoms treatable at home to severe infections requiring hospitalization. Although easily treated with antibiotics, these diseases can be difficult for physicians to diagnose. However, early recognition and treatment of the infection decreases the risk of serious complications. So see your doctor immediately if you have been bitten by a tick and experience any of the symptoms described here.