By: Dr. Eric Sensenbrenner
The days are longer, birdsong fills the sky, and pops of color appear from various flowering plants. Spring is here, and like me, you may find yourself returning to more frequent outdoor activities. While you are enjoying a hike at Crowder’s Mountain or a day at the Whitewater Center, there is an important health risk of which to be aware. Tickborne illnesses are more commonly seen in the spring and summer months, but ticks can be out looking for hosts anytime the temperature is above freezing. These illnesses occur when bacteria carried by ticks are transferred to humans (and pets) through tick bites.
Ticks are small 8-legged arachnids (spider relative) with flat, soft bodies that engorge with blood after feeding. Interestingly, Rock Mountain Spotted fever is the most common tickborne illness encountered in the Carolinas. There are fewer cases of Lyme disease, which is much more common in the Northeast and Great Lakes areas. The classic signs of tickborne illness are developing a rash and fever after having spent time outdoors. Tick habitat includes areas of tall grass, woodlands and even gardens.
It typically requires ticks to feed for 72 hours before transmitting disease, so prompt removal is key. Be sure to thoroughly check for ticks after hiking, camping, hunting/fishing, gardening or clearing brush. You can treat clothing with products containing 0.5% permethrin or using insect repellents containing DEET. Hot water washes and high heat drying will kill ticks that may be attached to clothing. If you do find a tick on your body, you can remove it by using tweezers to grasp the head close to the skin surface and gently pulling straight up without twisting or jerking. Keeping the tick in a bag or container to show your physician can be helpful to determine possible pathogens exposures.
The CDC is a great resource to learn more about tickborne illness and prevention. Please schedule a visit at SPC if you are concerned you may have encountered a tick or develop symptoms of tickborne illness.
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