Monthly Archives: July 2015

Tick-borne Illnesses

Ticks are small arachnids that feed on blood of mammals. Ticks feed on deer, rodents, rabbits, dogs and cats and humans, to name a few. When they attach to a host, they insert a long mouthpart called a proboscis to feed on the host’s blood. This can take anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours. Usually the host is unaware, as there is an anesthetic property in the tick’s saliva. If a tick has a pathogen from a previous host, it can be transmitted to a new host. A blood meal is necessary for the tick to grow and depending on the type of tick, three to five blood meals are required to grow.

In the DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia region, the most common ticks are blacklegged (deer) ticks, dog ticks and Lone Star ticks.

The blacklegged tick (also referred to as the deer tick) is best known for what it carries: Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a debilitating infection that is often misdiagnosed because early symptoms closely resemble the flu. If untreated patients can develop a host of health problems, including severe headaches, joint pain, and in more serious cases, paralysis, heart palpitations, arthritis, and neurological disorders. Some people will have a bull’s-eye at the site where the tick was attached and had a blood meal, however, not all people develop that, adding another challenge to detecting Lyme. Blacklegged ticks are the size of a sesame seed, which can make them difficult to detect when they are on a host.   Blacklegged ticks can also transmit Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis, both of which have similar symptoms of Lyme disease.

The dog tick, known as the American dog tick, is found in open grassy areas with little tree cover and trails. They are reddish-brown and have white/silver markings on the body. They can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Tularemia. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be very dangerous if not caught early. Early symptoms include fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, vomiting and muscle pain. A distinct rash can occur, but not in the early stage of infection. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be treated with antibiotics. Tularemia causes ulcers where the bacteria entered the body and can cause high fevers.

The Lone Star tick is distinct in appearance because it has a white dot or star in the center of its back. It is brownish grey and larger than the blacklegged tick. Like the American dog tick, the Lone Star tick can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, Ehrlichiosis and most recently, new diseases called STARI. STARI, or Southern Tick Rash Associated Illness, is a newly discovered tick-borne illness that has symptoms similar to Lyme. More research is being done on STARI.

Tick-borne illnesses can range from mild to severe. It is alarming that something as small as a seed can cause severe health issues, especially since ticks are often undetected. However, it’s not a reason to avoid the outdoors. Simple measures can help prevent the spread of tick-borne illnesses. If you are outdoors, even in your own backyard, check for ticks daily. Start from the feet and move up. They prefer dark, warm areas and will stay on the body for up to two days. If you see a tick on you, keep close eye on the site and any changes in your health. If you will be outdoors for an extended period of time, or in an area where ticks are prevalent, wear long pants and sleeves and you can treat your clothing with permethrin. Permethrin is very strong and not meant for use on skin. Bug repellants containing DEET are effective on the skin, but should only be used if the concentration of DEET is between 10 and 30%. Finally, you can have your exterior treated for ticks. Triple S offers the Home Guardian Plan, which treats the perimeter of your home to prevent ticks from entering. For more information on how Triple S Services can help, call 800-457-3785.