Summer is sizzling as families frequently venture outdoors to enjoy the season’s warm weather before school resumes in August. While everyone looks forwards to backyard barbeques, camping trips, hiking explorations, and lazy lake days, beneath all the fun in the sunshine lurk disease-carrying insects in the shade.
“From Easter on, our most common ticks are active,” said Elmer Gray, a public health entomologist with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. “Whenever you walk into grass that touches your legs, you need to take precautions or you could come home with ticks. You don’t have to be in the woods to pick them up.”
Ticks are like miniature vampires, feasting on the blood of humans and animals while hiding from the sunlight in the earth’s shadiest spots. However, if you get bit by a tick you, fortunately, won’t be doomed to an eternity of nocturnal bloodsucking and sunlight aversion, but you will run a small risk of catching various diseases.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), cases of diseases transmitted through tick bites, as well as bites from fleas and mosquitos, have tripled since 2004. The CDC report that in 2016 — the most recent year for which data are available — the most common tick-transmitted diseases in the U.S. were Lyme disease, as well as the lesser-known bacterial infections ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis. According to the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, “ticks carrying lyme disease — the black-legged or deer tick in the eastern United States — are in Georgia, but they are not as common as the other species and the adults are most active in the fall. More common are the American dog ticks that can carry the bacteria that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Georgia sees about 75 cases of this illness each year. All tick bites can cause welts and itching that can last up to 10 to 14 days, but Gray urges Georgians to visit the doctor if they experience fever or extreme headaches or if they develop a localized rash that’s larger than a dime. Tick-connected headaches or fever will emerge five to seven days after tick contact.”
Another rising side effect in connection to lone star tick bites is the development of an allergy to mammalian protein—including popular meats such as beef and pork. Once the allergy is developed, people can no longer property digest mammalian proteins, causing adverse reactions such as vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea.
Three tick species are most commonly associated with humans in Georgia: the Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum), American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) and black-legged tick(Ixodes scapularis). According to the University of Georgia Extension Cooperative, “The Lone Star tick has unusually long mouthparts. The female has a single white spot in the middle of her back, while the white markings on the male are diffuse. Common hosts include large animals such as livestock, dogs, deer and humans as well as smaller animals such as birds and rodents. Lone Star ticks are particularly common in brushy, bottomland areas where deer are prevalent.
The American dog tick has shorter mouthparts. Both males and females have diffuse white markings on their backs. Dogs are the preferred host, but this tick will feed on a variety of large animals, including humans.
The black-legged tick is smaller than the other two ticks and has no white markings on its back. This tick is common on white-tailed deer, dogs, birds, humans and other large mammals as well as a variety of small rodents. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: The most important tick-borne disease in the southeastern U.S. continues to be Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which is caused by Rickettsia rickettsii, a rickettsial or bacteria-like organism. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever has a fatality rate of three to five percent, with two-thirds of the cases occurring in children under the age of 15. This disease is characterized by a sudden onset of chills, fever, headache and bloodshot eyes. The name “spotted fever” refers to the rash that appears two to four days after the onset of fever. The rash characteristically starts on the hands and feet as small, flat, pink spots that do not itch and gradually spreads to most of the body. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be easily misdiagnosed as measles. Diagnosis is aided by a history of a recent tick bite and confirmed by a blood test. Antibiotics provide effective treatment. The American dog tick is the primary vector.”
Rising temperatures and shorter winters are believed to be contributing to burgeoning tick populations and lengthened life-cycles each year. In Georgia, the most common tick is the “lone star tick,” begins its hunt for blood around Easter every year. According to UGA, “They crawl up to the top of a tall blade of grass and wait to hitch a ride on unsuspecting hikers or gardeners, or pets and other animals. Then they climb their victim until they find a vulnerable, warm spot and dig in. No matter what part of the body becomes the tick’s dining destination, there’s an almost 100 percent chance that it started its assault on the victim’s legs.”
To prevent tick bites, experts recommend avoiding outdoor areas with tall grass, or brush. It is also recommended to stay on marked trails and sidewalks instead of venturing off into overgrown areas. A few wardrobe choices can also thwart a tick’s efforts to invade your skin. Wearing long pants tucked into boots or socks and tucked in shirts have proven successfully in keeping ticks at bay.
To add an extra layer of protection during recreational outdoor activities, insect repellants with DEET is recommended to ward off ticks and other disease-carrying bugs. For people who spend a lot of time outdoors, hunting, fishing, camping or performing landscaping work, a heavy-duty treatment with permethrin is recommended.
“The permethrin-based products are only approved for application to clothing and are very effective in repelling all of our most common pests including ticks, chiggers and mosquitoes,” said Gray.
After returning indoors for the evening, check yourself and your children for ticks, especially along the scalp. Such precautions can keep families safe while enjoying the many wonders the great outdoors have to offer.
TOP: American Dog tick MIDDLE: Lone Star tick BOTTOM: Black-legged tick