Public Health Update: Tick-Borne Diseases

While pest management professionals can’t offer advice on the medical aspects of ticks, they can offer advice when providing tick-management services.

Tick-borne diseases have become more prevalent in recent years, but through advances in modern science, scientists have been able to identify illnesses with greater ease.

Most people associate tick-borne illnesses to Lyme disease, which is caused predominantly by the deer tick. Biologically, ticks are limited to rural areas. The expansion of home construction in rural areas has increased the likelihood that someone can become exposed to ticks or become infected by a tick-borne illness. In addition, the risk of co-infection (a situation in which a single tick bite can bring on one or multiple other diseases) has become greater than ever before.

As pest management professionals, we cannot give direct medical advice or diagnose our clients. However, we do have a responsibility to give our clients guidance when appropriate.

Our services, in this respect, are a bridge, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the client to seek medical attention should he or she be bitten by a tick. It is appropriate to encourage our clients, especially if they have been exposed to ticks, to seek appropriate medical attention, such as an infectious disease specialist.

Tick-borne diseases are serious; they can turn deadly. Tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis have become more common, and will continue to in the coming years as suburbanization continues. This, combined with continued climate change, has triggered increased moisture levels and warmer seasons (April to September) throughout the year; these are all conducive conditions for ticks to thrive.

Additionally, the surge in deer populations and their close proximity to humans can, and do, ultimately allow greater exposure of ticks to deer and humans alike.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov/ticks), tick-borne diseases can be acquired through bacteria, a virus or a parasite on the tick itself. Most infections occur during summer months, but they can occur at different times of year, depending on the overall climate in a specific area. Symptoms of tick-borne diseases include a rash, which may be pronounced and obvious, such as in the case of Rocky Mountain spotted fever (where it is acute); in the case of Lyme disease, the rash appears similar to a “bull’s eye” pattern. Additional symptoms include fever, chills, and aches and pains.

The onset of symptoms can range from immediate to as many as a few weeks. It is highly recommended that if you (or a client) suspect that you have been exposed to ticks and may have acquired a tick-borne disease, you seek appropriate medical care. Treatments are most effective when caught early. Vaccines against most tick-borne diseases either do not exist or have been discontinued because these illnesses are not prevalent in a high segment of the population. Lyme disease, as the most common tick-borne disease, is no exception; treatments are most effective in earlier stages. Many sufferers of Lyme disease do report post-treatment syndromes or what is commonly referred to as “chronic Lyme disease.”

Statistics show the overall prognosis for someone who has been exposed and bitten by a tick is good, if caught early.

 

 

The photo shows a pathognomonic erythematous rash in the pattern of a “bull’s-eye,” which manifested at the site of a tick bite on this Maryland woman’s arm, who’d subsequently contracted Lyme disease. 

 

 

 

Prevention

Prevention, by far, is the best medicine concerning ticks. Simple preventive measures include avoiding areas known to harbor ticks, such as areas with high grass and leaves. Some additional preventive measures include the use of 20 to 30 percent DEET or a 0.5 percent permethrin spray. Clothing with permethrin contained within the fibers is commercially available and can help in repelling ticks that come in contact with the material. Bathing as soon as possible after being exposed to a tick-infested area, as well as tumble-drying any tick-exposed clothing on high heat, is helpful. Pets also need to be treated if infected. Pets can become a major source of tick entry into a home or business. All of these contributing factors occur on a case-by-case basis, but they can reduce and/or eliminate the overall likelihood of coming in contact with a tick.

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