“T T T T” The Tiny, Terrible, Tick”

Published 2:02 pm Sunday, June 21, 2015

Nothing could be finer than the spring and summer in North Carolina. From the mountains to the coast, our beautiful state affords us the luxuries of hiking, biking, rafting, swimming and all types of outdoor activities. Spending time outdoors usually brings risks such as accidents, sunburn and allergies and unexpected encounters with wildlife of the area.

When we think of wildlife we usually think of deer, raccoons, foxes, squirrels, rabbits or any other creature that we do not usually try to keep as pets. Some of these can provide danger to our safety due to bites or wrecks, even rabies. Did you ever stop to think about the tiny, eight legged, blood-sucking cousin to the spider as being a wildlife danger? Yes, it is the tick. Its bite can cause chronic illnesses and even death.

The months of May, June and July are the times of increased tick activity and the most risk of getting a tick bite. Ticks are common in all areas of North Carolina. The most common ticks we see here in Beaufort County are the tiny brown deer tick and the larger “hard” dog tick. Ticks may attach to any body part but prefer hard to see areas such as the groin, scalp, armpits and bend of the knees. It is important to remove a tick as soon as it is found. The Centers for Disease Control recommend grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible and slowly and firmly pulling straight out until the tick lets go. Many home remedies such as fingernail polish, hot matches or petroleum jelly have not been found to be helpful. As soon as the tick is removed, wash your hands and the area to which the tick was attached with soap and water. Apply a disinfectant to the bite area. In case you might become ill within the following two weeks, some articles recommend keeping the tick in a jar or plastic bag with a card as to when the tick was removed. If flu-like symptoms develop, your health care provider might want the tick for testing.

Symptoms of tick-borne illnesses mirror the flu. You might experience sudden onset of fever, headache, muscle pain and a rash. You may have all or one of these symptoms. Developing a symptom does not mean you have a tick borne illness but it should initiate a medical evaluation.

Three tick borne illnesses endemic to North Carolina are Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and Ehrlichiosis.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is the most severe and reported tick-borne illness in the United States, and North Carolina often reports the most cases in the nation. It is transmitted primarily by the dog tick. Symptoms are all of those listed above, which makes it hard to diagnose if the tick bite has not been identified previously. It can be fatal if not identified in time to control the symptoms.

Lyme disease is transmitted by the deer tick. North Carolina reports only about 50 cases of this a year. Symptoms include a bull’s-eye rash, with flu like symptoms with severe joint aches. Infrequently some paralysis and long-term effects develop but the disease is rarely, if ever, fatal.

Ehrlichiosis is caused by a bacteria transmitted by ticks. It also causes flu like symptoms along with vomiting, diarrhea and cough. Confusion and a rash in children are also noted. This is a severe illness with as many as half of people diagnosed requiring hospitalization. It can be fatal and is rare in North Carolina but cases seem to be on the increase.

To prevent tick bites: Wear long pants and sleeves when in areas such as moist shaded areas with high grass, bushes and woods. Tuck your pants legs into your socks and tuck shirts into your pants. Wear light colored clothing, which makes the ticks easier to see. Use insect repellent containing a chemical that will repel or kill ticks. Treat your pets to prevent tick infestation. Check yourself and your loved ones daily if they play or work outdoors.

More information may be found by going to htt://epi.publichealth.nc.gov/cdc/diseases/ticks

Billie Whitfield, RN, CIC is the Infection Control and Prevention Nurse at Vidant Beaufort Hospital and can be reached at 252-975-4186.