Forget about staying 6 feet apart: ticks search for blood in the hardest-to-reach areas of the human body.
And the area where Lyme disease occurs is growing.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure is now high in the states of the Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.
The tick population is likely to fluctuate during the season anyway, said Mather, a professor at the Institute of Plant Sciences and Entomology at the University of Rhode Island. “What we see in real time is not always a good prediction of what could happen in a month or two.”
In April and May, the reports were closer to what Mather saw in 2019. But even if the tick numbers remain constant for the rest of the months with warm weather, encounters with the tiny arachnids will remain a serious problem.
Ticks can not only transmit Lyme disease, but also other diseases. If left untreated, some of them can be fatal to both humans and pets.
And because sunny days send people outside to breathe fresh air amid the pandemic, the risk of contracting a tick-borne illness or infection increases wherever ticks can be found. Here’s what you need to know to stay tick-proof this year.
What are the most serious tick-borne diseases?
Concern about the coronavirus pandemic does not mean that other threats have disappeared.
As with Lyme disease, early symptoms of anaplasmosis include fever, chills, headache, and muscle pain. Antibiotics are effective against anaplasmosis, but if left untreated, the disease can be fatal. People with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk.
In Europe, encephalitis transmitted by viral ticks is a problem with 3,092 confirmed cases in countries of the European Union in 2018. There is an effective vaccine against the disease that can cause fever, headache, paralysis and cramps. (Other tick-borne diseases in Europe are tick-borne relapse fever, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever and Mediterranean spot fever.)
However, the most common tick-borne risk in the US and Europe is Lyme disease. And the vast majority of cases can go undetected.
Early symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and a pronounced porthole rash that expands from the bite itself. (Although a rash is a known sign of infection, it occurs in 70% to 80% of cases.)
If left untreated, symptoms of Lyme disease may worsen and include facial paralysis, palpitations, and severe joint pain.
Stay tick-proof outdoors
Gardner, the medical entomologist at the University of Maine, spends her days in the field, pulling a bright cloth through tick habitats. The ticks reach for the fabric, where their dark bodies are clearly visible.
This is a research trick you can adjust to protect yourself. “Light-colored clothing can make it easier to recognize the ticks on you,” said Gardner, whose work puts them in frequent close contact with the tiny creatures.
Another way to protect against ticks is to put pants in socks. Because ticks crawl up off the floor, it’s easier to spot them before they slip under your clothes.
“Removing these invasive plants from the landscape has the added benefit of inhibiting exposure to tick-borne pathogens,” Gardner said.
Looking for ticks – and what to do if you find one?
Even if you practice conscientious tick safety outdoors, it is important to check yourself and your children for ticks when you return.
That means full body control: work with someone who can inspect every corner of your body, or use a hand mirror to look at hard-to-see places. Some places where ticks are easy to miss are your ears, navel, arms, and the back of your knees.
If you develop a rash or fever within a few weeks of finding a tick, contact your doctor.
In areas with a high incidence of Lyme disease, it is still a good idea to check in. Depending on how long the tick has been attached or embedded, the provider may recommend further treatment or monitoring.
What about your pets
There are two considerations when it comes to pet and tick safety: you need to be safe and ensure that you are not exposed to ticks that bring them into the house.
Some of these diseases can be fatal.
Cats do not appear to be susceptible to Lyme disease. However, in the southern United States, they can catch tick-borne Cytauxzoon felis, a parasitic disease that is often fatal. To protect your cat and your household, it is important to use tick-preventive treatment when the animal is spending time outdoors.
It is a habit that protects your pet while preventing the arachnids from attaching to an endangered human food source: you.