HEALTH LINE: Watch Out For Ticks in the Summer Wilderness
CINCINNATI—If you’re planning to spend at least part of your summer enjoying nature, the nation’s top health officials want you to pay special attention to a pest found in forests and grasses: ticks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May through July is the top season for tick bites and tick-borne diseases. Ticks infected with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi can spread Lyme disease through their bite. If caught early, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics, but if uncontrolled the disease can cause permanent nerve and joint damage.
The best way to reduce your risk for tick bites is through avoidance and careful attention after possible exposure, says UC assistant professor of emergency medicine Michael Lyons, MD.
Lyons says this is particularly important for Tristate residents who will be traveling for vacation this year, as ticks are often found in thick, wooded areas with leaf litter or bushy edges. Because ticks don’t fly, they land onto humans or animals by crawling from the tips of shrubs or grasses, or up from the forest floor.
"You can be exposed to ticks by hiking, camping or working outdoors,” says Lyons. "They can also hitch a ride on your family dog.”
To avoid a bite during your summer hikes, avoid walking uncovered through thick brush, or use protective clothing or repellents.
Ticks usually need a day or longer to transmit the Lyme disease bacteria to their host, so early removal can reduce the risk of infection. While ticks are present in the Greater Cincinnati area, Lyons says health care providers do not see many tick-related diseases locally.
Wear repellent: Products with 20 percent DEET provide skin protection for several hours, but should be avoided near children’s hands, eyes and mouth. Products that contain permethrin can be used on clothing and gear.
Do a full-body check after coming indoors: Ticks can hide under arms, between legs or in your hair, so use a mirror and be sure to thoroughly check young children and pets.
Shower soon after possible exposure: A shower helps you find and wash off ticks that have traveled inside. It also helps to tumble dry clothes on high heat to kill any bugs.
Call your doctors if symptoms develop: Early symptoms resemble the flu: a fever, fatigue and chills. Lyme disease can also appear with a characteristic red "bull’s-eye” rash around the bite.