Tick Diseases Are On the Rise: Here's How to Avoid Them

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tick on human skin between a thumb and forefinger

When heading outdoors to be at one with nature this summer, keep in mind you’re likely to be in the company of ticks. The tick population is growing and tick-borne diseases are on the rise in Ohio and elsewhere.

Ohio is home to about a dozen tick species, including two relatively new ones.  Three species in Ohio are the primary spreaders of disease: the American dog tick, the blacklegged tick (also known as the deer tick) and the Lone Star tick.

The blacklegged tick transmits Lyme disease, and its range is increasing in Ohio. Most people know about Lyme disease, but may not be aware of other tick-borne diseases, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis and babesiosis.

Ticks inhabit woods, brush and grassy areas. You can also encounter them in your yard and garden, and in your neighborhood. They attach themselves to hosts passing or crawling by. Ticks feed on the blood of deer, mice, squirrels, rabbits, pets and humans. They’re hardy creatures, able to survive northern winters and go a long time between meals.

Watch for Symptoms

If you’re bitten by an infected tick, you won’t automatically become infected with a disease, as risk of acquiring a tick-borne disease is low.

But it’s a good idea to monitor yourself for symptoms. Various tick-borne diseases cause similar symptoms, including fever, chills, body aches, fatigue and rashes.

Tick-borne diseases can produce symptoms that range from mild and treatable at home to severe infections that require hospitalization. Early recognition and treatment of the infection with antibiotics decreases the risk of serious complications.  See your health care provider immediately if you have been bitten by a tick and experience symptoms of a tick-borne disease.

Even if you do not acquire a tick-borne disease, the site of the tick bite can still develop inflammation and swelling.

Lyme Disease

One tick-borne disease of concern is Lyme disease. Its symptoms can vary among individuals. Symptoms include a bulls-eye rash, fatigue, headache and fever. If untreated, Lyme disease can affect the heart, joints and nervous system.

Immature ticks called nymphs are responsible for most human Lyme disease cases. Nymphs are very small – less than 2 millimeters -- and may go unnoticed. They are active in spring and summer, while adult blacklegged ticks are active in the spring, fall and winter.

Dogs can also get Lyme disease with severe symptoms. Cats aren’t susceptible to the disease, but outdoor cats can carry infected ticks into your house.

Precautions Against Tick Bites

The best way to protect against tick-borne disease is to take precautions:

  • Talk to your veterinarian about tick-prevention treatments for pets. Check your pets regularly for ticks.
  • Keep your grass cut and remove brush and leaf litter as much as possible.
  • When hiking or walking in a nature area, stay near the center of the path. Avoid woods, brush, tall grass and leaf litter. Wear light-colored clothing so that ticks are easier to spot. Wear pants, socks and long-sleeved shirt. Tuck pant legs into socks or boots. Use a tick repellant registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • If you find a tick, remove it promptly to decrease chances of disease transmission. Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull firmly until it releases. Wash the site with soap and water.

Matthew Frantz, DO, practices Family Medicine at UH State Road Family Medicine in Medina.

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