Warmer temperatures and longer days beckon outdoors enthusiasts and gardeners alike to get out and enjoy the season. However, Christopher Ohl, M.D., professor of infectious diseases at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and medical director of communicable diseases for the Forsyth County (N.C.) Health Department, reminds people to protect themselves and their pets from another springtime arrival - ticks.
"There aren't any vaccines for tick-borne diseases like Lyme, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis, so the only way to prevent infection is to not get bitten in the first place," Ohl said.
Ohl offers these tips to prevent tick bites:
•The longer a tick is embedded in you the greater the risk of infection, so check yourself, or have friend check you, for ticks as soon as you come in from being outdoors.
•Use an insect repellant that contains DEET on exposed skin. Shoes, boots and clothing can be treated with a permethrin-based repellant, widely available at sporting goods and outdoors stores, that can provide weeks of protection and last through several washings. (Herbal treatments are not effective.)
•Tuck pants into socks to reduce exposed skin.
•When hiking, stay on beaten paths and avoid walking in brushy areas or tall grass - favorite haunts of ticks.
•If you find a tick, use tweezers to remove it as close to the skin as possible. Don't grab the tick with your fingers and squeeze to remove. Squeezing injects the tick fluids into you and increases the risk of infection.
•If you've been bitten by a tick and then develop a fever one to two weeks later, see your doctor. The incubation period for tick-borne diseases is 8 to 14 days.
•Be sure to protect the family dog with tick collars or monthly treatments to prevent ticks from being brought into the house on the dog's coat. Cats seem less prone to getting ticks.
"Although most tick bites don't result in an infection, prevention is always the safest bet," he said.
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center