Woodland Terrorists: Beware Of Ticks And Their Disease Warfare

If you are a passionate hiker and reside in the northeastern, Great Lakes, or upper Midwest region of the United States, you probably already know to beware of ticks, but do you always follow precautions to protect yourself from their bites? After a mild winter, a bumper crop of the disease-spreading arachnids threatens to bring an increase in the number of cases of tick-borne diseases. Find out about two of these illnesses that are on the rise so that you understand the importance of doubling your efforts to prevent them.

Lyme Disease

First identified in Lyme, Connecticut, this bacterial illness is transmitted by the blacklegged tick, which is also known as a deer tick. The early signs of infection include a headache, fever, muscle aches, joint pain, and fatigue. Roughly three-quarters of those infected develop a round skin rash that is either solidly red or resembles a bulls-eye in its appearance. When diagnosed early by your local family practice, treatment with an extended round of antibiotic therapy typically resolves the infection. Failure to treat Lyme disease can result in joint damage and adversely affect heart and nervous system function. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme disease cases are concentrated primarily in 14 states within the northeast and upper Midwest regions. As the range of the deer tick has expanded into those states, the number of cases has increased, and milder winters also result in an increase in the tick population.

Powassan Virus

Powassan virus is much less prevalent than Lyme disease, but it is transmitted by three different types of ticks, including the deer tick. The disease has thus far been concentrated in the northeast and Great Lakes regions. Approximately 15 percent of Powassan virus cases have been fatal, Dr. Jennifer Lyons, who heads the Division of Neurological Infections and Inflammatory Diseases at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, informed CNN. Dr. Lyons went on to state that at least half of those who survive the disease suffer permanent neurological damage. Symptoms of Powassan virus include a headache, fever, confusion, vomiting, and seizure activity. There is no confirmed cure for the illness.

Disease Transmission

Humans contract both Lyme disease and Powassan virus when bitten by a tick after it has taken a blood meal from an infected host. Deer, white-footed mice, squirrels, woodchucks and chipmunks are common carriers. Humans cannot transmit Lyme disease or Powassan virus to one another. Although dogs can contract Lyme disease, humans cannot catch the illness from their dog. However, if your dog comes along with an infected tick on his coat, you could contract an illness if that tick ends up on your skin and bites you.

Precautions for Prevention

The best way to reduce your chances of contracting Lyme disease and Powassan virus is to take preventative measures to decrease your exposure to ticks. If you enjoy spending time in the great outdoors, it is unreasonable to quarantine yourself indoors for the duration of tick season. If you have been lax in protecting yourself against these blood-sucking parasites, now is the time to resume the following practices:

  • Wear light-colored clothing so that ticks are easy to spot.
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants, and tuck the bottoms of your pant legs into your white socks.
  • Apply a tick repellent spray to your clothing as well as to exposed skin. Those that contain DEET have been proven to be effective at repelling ticks.
  • Stay on the cleared hiking trails, and do not veer off course into areas with tall grasses and weeds.
  • If you are camping, spray tents and other gear with repellent products that contain permethrin.
  • Apply a topical tick preventative product from your veterinarian to your dog. Follow the instructions for administration, and use the product throughout the tick season.
  • When you come indoors, remove your clothing at once and place it directly into the dryer. Drying the clothes will kill the ticks.
  • Take a shower and wash your hair after you have removed your clothing, and inspect your skin thoroughly from head to toe to remove ticks.
  • On your property, remove all brush and debris to eliminate areas that small wild animals may find hospitable.
  • Treat your property's trees, shrubs, and lawns with a product that repels or kills ticks.

Once you are in the habit of diligently practicing these precautions, you and your family will be proactive at reducing your chances of contracting a tick-borne disease while you enjoy outdoor recreation during the warmer months.