June could be thought of as the beginning of tick season, but that’s only because they’re in their tiny ‘hard to spot’ nymph stage, and June is when we humans are out in our gardens and the woods… looking very tasty to a tick.
This time of the year it’s important to do a routine “Tick Check” on yourself and any children in your care after being in a possible tick-laden habitat. If you spot one that’s gotten “lock on” use tweezers to carefully remove it, tweezing as close to the skin as possible, slowly pulling the tiny tick straight out. Then you can crush it or flush the tick down the toilet.
Ignore folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with liquid or gel or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible, not wait for it to detach. Heat may actually stimulate the tick to salivate, which is how it could transmit any disease it may have into your bloodstream. Put exposed clothes in a dryer in high heat to kill undiscovered ticks.
Wait, Did You Say Disease?
The latest official updates on tick-borne infectious diseases and diseases of animals that can be transmitted to humans, by way of a tick vector (e.g. zoonoses) can be found on a highly informative website run by the US government’s Center for Disease Control. Specifically on their latest “Grand Rounds” program featuring four notable tick disease experts. The webcast (with continuing education credits) is recommended for doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians, other healthcare providers and teachers… and for those who just want to be really well-informed.
First, here are three helpful definitions for those new to the field:
- Zoonoses: a disease that can be transmitted to humans from animals.
- Vector: In medicine, a carrier of disease or of medication. For example, in malaria a mosquito is the vector that carries and transfers the infectious agent. In molecular biology, a vector may be a virus or a plasmid that carries a piece of foreign DNA to a host cell. But let’s stick with ticks for now.
- Ticks: Not insects. They, like mites, are small arachnids (like spiders). Ticks live by feeding on the blood of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
Scientists know the most about the oldest known tick-borne diseases:
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)
- Lyme disease
…But relatively newer ones they’re watching closely include:
- Powassan virus (deer tick virus) widespread in our Northern and NE states
- Heartland virus and Bourbon virus widespread in Southern and SE states
The CDC recommends the antibiotic DOXYCYLINE for treating all tick-borne rickettsioses in humans of all ages, including children. If administered within the first five days of infection, tick-borne diseases are curable with doxycycline. The CDC has advocated this specific tetracycline for two generations.
An excellent CDC Primer on Lyme disease can be found on: https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/transmission/index.html, which includes a relevant fact important to those who hunt deer and prepare venison: You will NOT get Lyme disease from eating venison that may have been bitten.
Specific to Central Texas, an excellent tick update from Texas A&M can be found on: http://citybugs.tamu.edu/2016/01/27/lyme-disease-ticks-in-texas/
What’s The Risk?
Note that McCulloch County is not a designated vulnerable blue zone, but some of our neighbor counties are, and sometimes that’s only because cases haven’t been reported.
Not all tick bites carry disease. If you develop a fever or experience flu-like symptoms soon after having been bitten, that’s when to hightail it to the doctor!
Ticks acquire the diseases by first feeding on infected small critters like mice, squirrels, birds, amphibians and reptiles. From there they feed greedily on larger animals, especially deer, other wildlife, dogs and livestock. In the winter, when horses and cattle provide thick fur coats, the adult ticks can easily be detected, removed and disposed of.
Our Hometown Ticks
Here in Central Texas we have all the primary species of ticks that cause the majority of diseases:
- Blacklegged (deer) tick
- Lone Star tick
- American dog tick
- Brown dog tick
Click on the above CDC and Texas A&M websites for identifying pictures and details. Ticks can’t fly or jump, but simply lie in wait, clinging to leaves and grasses by their third and fourth pairs of legs, using the front pair to grasp and climb on any passing host. In the small nymph stage, they’re close to the ground, while adults can climb higher into vegetation. They choose their victims by detecting animal breath and body odors, or by sensing body heat, moisture and vibrations.
You usually don’t feel a tick bite. The first sign is often redness around the site of the bite. Other symptoms that follow may include itchiness and burning, but some people don’t even experience that. If a “bulls-eye” redness appears around the bite area, it was probably a deer tick. Again, if fever and flu-like symptoms begin, that’s when to seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
A Tick’s Enemy is a Friend of Yours
Few cases of tick-borne disease have been reported in Brady, McCulloch County and our surrounding areas but we’re just as likely to get Lyme disease or other viruses or harmful bacteria from ticks as anywhere else. One of the reasons we’re fortunate in not yet having a tick epidemic is our abundance of their natural enemies, which can easily spot a tick:
- Wild turkey
- Other bug-eating ground birds
Be sure to thank any of these tick-hungry birds when you see them out hunting!
Repellent dog collars are a must on dogs that go outdoors. Humans need to spray with 20-30% DEET repellent when taking those walks in the woods… or even just gardening. Spraying outdoor clothing with permethrin helps too. Permethrin is the active ingredient in many commercial sprays and is used extensively on livestock to repel and kill ticks and flies and will not stain clothes. It can be found in concentrate form at our local feed stores.
Be safe; Have fun!