Healthcare providers and researchers agree: this will be a bad year for ticks and we need use preventative measures to minimize the threat of tick-borne illnesses.
Tick populations are related to the number of acorns produced. "Ecology research shows when acorns are plentiful, mouse populations explode in the following years, giving rise to more ticks," says Dennis Kane, MD, a pediatrician practicing at Maryland-based Righttime Medical Care in Rockville and Gaithersburg, Md.
Ticks can carry bacteria and viruses that can lead to severe illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the number of reported Lyme disease cases in the United States — now 300,000 per year — has tripled since the late 1990s. The disease causes flu-like symptoms and most people can recover with antibiotics.
In addition, this year the rare tick-borne Powassan virus is starting to make an appearance, which also comes with flu-like symptoms, although no treatment is available.
"While we need to remember not every tick carries bacteria or viruses, more ticks means we'll very likely see more related illnesses," Dr. Kane says. "Everyone who spends time outdoors, even just playing in the backyard, should perform a daily check."
To minimize tick-related illness:
While prevention is key, the good news is that ticks don't pass along bacteria and viruses immediately. "Ticks need to be on the body for an extended period, usually 18 to 24 hours, and look at least partially engorged," explains Dr. Kane. "It's unpleasant, but they regurgitate blood as they stay attached. The danger begins later because whatever they're carrying has a chance to get into your bloodstream."
If you find a tick, follow these steps:
1) Use a pair of pointed tweezers to grab close to the head.
2) Pull up firmly away from the skin.
3) Disinfect skin with rubbing alcohol and wash hands with soap and water.
4) Dispose of the tick by submersing in rubbing alcohol, placing in a sealed bag, wrapping in tape, or flushing down the toilet. Take a photo before disposing of it if you want to refer to the type of tick later.
5) If you can't take it out, visit a health care provider for removal.
The CDC advises not to keep a tick after removal: If testing shows the tick had disease-causing organisms, you may not necessarily have been infected, but if you have been infected, you may develop symptoms before results are available.
Don't do any of these when removing a tick as they can cause it to bury:
Watch for signs of infection in the days following removal, including fever, chills, headaches, and/or muscle aches. A bulls-eye rash can appear following a Lyme disease infection, but not always. Other disease may cause rashes that are not circular. If you suspect anything, see a health care provider as soon for possible.