Tick bites pose summer hazard

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 21, 2011

By Joanie Morris
For the Salisbury Post
So far this year, no cases of tickborne illness in Rowan County have been reported.
However, given that summer means a lot of people will be enjoying the outdoors in North Carolina, a run-in with a tick remains an annual threat.
Ticks carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis in North Carolina — diseases easily treated with antibiotics but left untreated can cause serious illness and even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the last known case of Lyme disease in Rowan County occurred in 2008, when there was one confirmed case, and two listed as “probable.” Two additional cases were listed as “suspect.” The last breakdown by county in North Carolina shows that the Centers for Disease Control received reports of 321 cases of Lyme disease for North Carolina for 2006-2010.
     In 2009, two people were reported to have Lyme disease in Wake County, as well as one case each in Wilkes, Wilson, Pitt, and Carteret counties.
“In North Carolina, there is a reportable diseases registry that each health department uses to log in information about any communicable diseases that are reported to us from doctors offices, clients that come to the health department and from hospitals,” said Sharon Owen, nursing director at the Rowan County Health Department.
“Depending on whether it’s something that needs further investigation, treatment or follow-up, the (communicable diseases) nurse either follows up directly with the family or talks with the physician who reported it. We just work with all providers in the community to ensure that any reportable communicable diseases are gathered and reported as required by state law,” she said.
So far this year, there have been no reported cases of tick-borne illness in Rowan County, as far as Owen knows.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is the most frequently reported tick-borne illness reported in the United States, with North Carolina reporting the most cases in the nation on average. Caused by the American dog tick, symptoms include sudden fever, headache and muscle pain.
Later, abdominal pain and vomiting are also common symptoms. Following initial symptoms, patients often report the development of a rash. Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be difficult to diagnose in the early stages. Symptoms usually begin within 2-14 days of a tick bite.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Rocky Mountain spotted fever is best treated with doxycycline and is most effective if started within five days of symptoms first presenting.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Megan Davies said in 2009 that the most recognizable sign of Lyme disease is a red or purplish skin lesion — not always present in patients. The lesion may grow over time and often has a “bull’s eye” appearance in the center. Other symptoms include fever, malaise, fatigue, headache, muscle and joint aches.
Lyme disease is caused by the bite of black legged ticks. Since 2002, more than 20,000 cases of the disease have been reported in the United States. Lyme disease usually presents within 3-30 days of being bitten.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Lyme disease can spread to joints, the heart and nervous system. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated with a few weeks of antibiotics, according to the CDC.
Ehrlichiosis is caused by the bite of an infected lone star ticks. Symptoms include fever, headache, malaise, muscle aches and joint pain. Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cough, confusion and rash. Symptoms usually show up within two weeks.
If untreated, as many as half of all patients require hospitalization, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. The disease can be fatal and is first treated with doxycycline.
Joanie Morris is a freelance reporter for the Salisbury Post. She can be reached at 704-797-4248 or news@salisburypost.com
The best prevention of tick-borne illness is personal care. Recommendations include using an insect repellent containing 20-30 percent DEET — do not apply to children under 2 months old. Wearing light-colored clothing will make spotting ticks easier, and tucking long pants into socks will help keep ticks off your skin.
Always check your skin and scalp, as well as other areas of your body, after spending time outside. Remove any ticks found on your body, as ticks attached to your skin for only a few hours are less likely to transmit illness.
To remove a tick that has bitten you, grasp the tick mouthparts as close to the skin as possible with tweezers. Pull the tick out with steady pressure — do not yank. Wash the bite area with soap and water, dry and apply a topical antiseptic. Place the tick in a Ziplock bag until you are sure no symptoms will occur.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends marking the area where the tick was removed and the date on the calendar. During the next several weeks, be on the lookout for tell-tell symptoms of tick-borne illnesses.
Other preventive measures include keeping grass mowed; removing leaf, brush and weed litter from around your home; and using deer resistant plants to deter deer from your yard. Check your pets for ticks after any time outside and check with your pet’s veterinarian for methods for preventing pets from tick bites.