Archive for Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tick season in full swing

July 2, 2008

For something so tiny, ticks can pack a mean punch.

They can crawl up your leg, burrow in the crook of a knee or under the lining of a sock, latch on and begin to feed. And before you know it, a few weeks down the road, you might start feeling more than under the weather - inflicted with ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or Lyme disease.

As much as that can ruin a perfectly good late spring and early summer, it might be the case for more folks this year as the number of ticks in Lawrence is up this year, says Kansas University professor Greg Burg.

"I would say that more people are coming in contact with them; whether they're bit or not, it's up to them," Burg says. "Yes, I would say that ... more people will see ticks this year."

Burg studies the population of ticks and says the snow this winter provided the perfect insulation for the critters, making them plentiful this time of year. He says the numbers are the highest they've been since 2005.

Signs of illness

That's cause for concern for area health officials. Kathy Colson, a registered nurse with the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, says there have been two reported cases of Lyme disease and three reported cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in the county so far this tick season. She says, though, that she thinks the number could be much higher because many times doctors treating patients might not know a tick bite has occurred and therefore may not test for a tick-borne disease.

Because of this, Colson recommends that when a tick is found and removed, the date be marked on the calendar.

"The best thing to do is when you have to remove a tick or know that you have been in a tick-infested area, and you have pulled some ticks off your body, is to kind of make a mark on the calendar, just as a reminder," Colson says. "Generally speaking, if you are going to get sick, it's going to be in the next couple of weeks, maybe three weeks.

"And so if in the next two or three weeks you start feeling like you have the flu, you notice a funny rash of some sort, just not feeling good, that's the time to call the doctor. And when you see the doctor, let them know that indeed you had a specific date when you know you had ticks, maybe not a specific tick bite that you found, but definitely you knew you were involved with ticks. So that the doctors then will think about what to order and how to treat you."

Precautions also need to be taken for your pets, says veterinarian Jim Kraft of Lawrence Veterinary Hospital, 3210 Clinton Parkway Court. He recommends using a topical tick control product like Frontline Plus rather than flea and tick collars. And while most pet owners may think of their dogs first, Kraft says they also need to know that cats can be bitten, too.

"People need to be aware that cats can get ticks and there's a parasite that is carried by ticks that can kill cats," Kraft says of cytauxzoonosis. "This last week we've had two cats that have died from that. It's a fatal disease."

Removal and precautions

Burg has been studying ticks for years, though he says he's only had two tick bites in that time. He says the secret is dressing "like a dork."

"If you go out, look like a dork, wearing long, light-colored pants, with your socks, tube socks, up half calf, you won't have ticks," Burg says. "You pick up ticks from low grass, not trees - they're not dropping out of trees, and so they're getting on your boots or shoes or socks or if you have long pants, on your pants, and crawl up from there."

Colson also recommends the use of a DEET-containing bug spray and says if you get a tick, stay calm and remove it carefully.

"Just go ahead and use a pair of tweezers. Put the tweezers as close to your body as possible and pull very slowly and gently, you don't need to twist, you don't need to do anything, just very slowly and gently pull back against and remove the tick," Colson says. "If you leave any body parts, don't freak about that either, just clean that site with soap and water."

But, she says, if you can, always check yourself daily if you've been outside this time of year because if you can get a tick off within 24 hours of it attaching, it is much less likely that you will fall ill.

"Check yourself daily for ticks because the best thing you can do is prevention," Colson says. "If you can avoid getting a disease, you're much better ahead than if you have to be treated for a disease."


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