July 11, 2017
Tick season is here, and in recent years the tick population has grown across Michigan. Although there has only been one confirmed case of Lyme disease reported in Genesee County so far this year and only 13 confirmed cases from 2000 to 2015, it’s important for residents to protect themselves from ticks and Lyme disease. The National Pest Management Association cautions that 2017 could be a high-risk year for Lyme disease because of the mild winter.
Ticks are small bugs in the spider family that feed off the blood of animals and humans. Many ticks carry bacteria and viruses from feeding off infected animals and then transmit those to other animals and humans. The blacklegged tick, commonly known as the deer tick, carries Lyme disease and can be fatal to humans if left untreated. In 2016, there were 221 cases of Lyme disease reported in Michigan.
Early symptoms of Lyme disease vary widely and include fever, rash, joint pain, fatigue and serious nervous system complications. Tick bites can appear as a red, expanding “bull’s-eye” rash. However, it’s important to note that a rash doesn’t always appear when bitten.
Anyone who spends time outside is at risk of getting bitten by ticks, especially children who play outdoors and adults who spend time gardening or hiking. As you and your family spend time outside this summer, here are three ways to reduce your chances of getting a tick-borne disease:
1. Avoid areas with tall grass.
While many believe you can only get bitten by ticks when hiking or spending time in the woods, you are at risk for being bitten even when doing yard work or playing outside. Ticks live in grassy or wooded areas and in damp piles of leaves and brush. They can live in your yard, especially in areas where there is tall grass.
Reduce ticks in your yard by removing leaf litter and clearing tall grass around your home. If you have children, keep toys and outdoor playground equipment like swing sets away from shrubs, bushes and tall vegetation. When hiking, remember to walk in the center of the trail and be aware of your surroundings.
2. Use insect repellent and wear proper clothing.
Before heading outside, apply insect repellent containing DEET on exposed skin. The Environmental Protection Agency offers tips on selecting the best insect repellent for your needs. Remember to read the manufacturer’s instructions on any insect repellent before applying it to yourself or children.
If you plan to be near tall grass, it’s also important to wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, tall socks and closed-toe shoes. Wear lighter colored clothing so you can easily spot ticks. Apply repellents containing permethrin to clothing if you are planning on spending extended periods of time outside, such as hiking or camping. Permethrin can be applied to boots, clothing and camping gear, but should not be applied to skin.
3. Conduct a full-body tick check.
After spending time outdoors, check your body and clothing for ticks. Ticks are about the size of poppy seeds, so look for brown or black dots with legs on your skin. As you check your body, look under your arms, in and around your ears, inside your belly button, in and around hair, between your legs and around your waist.
The best way to perform a check is to shower within two hours of coming inside. Any ticks that are found on skin should be removed immediately with tweezers. Experts also recommend putting your clothes in the dryer on heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing.
What to do if you find a tick
If you find a tick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends removing the attached tick with tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull straight out. You want to remove the entire tick, especially its head. Do not use matches to burn off ticks or cover ticks with nail polish. Lyme disease is unlikely if the tick is removed within 36 to 48 hours of attachment.
If Lyme disease symptoms begin to appear and are left untreated, it can spread to joints, the heart and nervous system. Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics if it is caught early. If you experience flu-like symptoms or a rash begins to appear, visit your doctor as soon as possible. For more information about Lyme disease, visit cdc.gov/lyme or michigan.gov/lyme.
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