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Tick talk:The best defense against illness is identifying the tick that bit you

Sunday, May 31, 2009

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Knowing your enemy is important in identifying possible illnesses if you have been bitten by a tick.

Dr. David N. Gaines, state public health entomologist for the state Department of Health's Office for Epidemiology, presented a program on identifying ticks during the Bug Daze event Saturday at the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

He told those gathered that there are only three species of ticks in Virginia that commonly bite people. As a result, the identification process is relatively simple.

"¢ The Lone Star tick "is as common as dirt" in Virginia, Gaines said. "Of the ticks people send to me" for identification, Gaines said 99 percent are the Lone Star species. They are identifiable by a single white spot in the middle of the back of females.

This species can cause a rash similar to the one associated with Lyme disease, Gaines said. In this case, the rash is called Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness, or STARI, he said.

"¢ The American Dog tick, the largest of the three, is the second most common. It will feed on people or dogs "but not a whole lot of other mammals," Gaines said.

Those ticks carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, but their population may be declining due to medications for dogs which repel ticks, Gaines said of Frontline and others.

"¢ The Black Legged tick, formerly called the Deer tick, is the "bad boy" of the three, because it can cause four different diseases, including one that is similar to malaria, Gaines said.

The Black Legged tick also is the only species in the eastern U.S. that carries Lyme disease, a bacterial illness transmitted from the bite of an infected tick, he said.

Infection is not likely to occur unless the tick has been attached to the body for at least 36 hours, according to the health department's Web site.

However, the disease can be dangerous.

It is characterized by a red rash that develops around the bite site, usually within 7 to 14 days. The rash slowly expands and can be up to 12 inches in diameter.

It does not itch but usually is accompanied by general tiredness, fever, headache, stiff neck, muscle aches and joint pains, according to health officials.

If improperly or untreated, Lyme disease can lead to arthritis, neurological problems and/or heart problems, even weeks or months later the bite occurs, the Web site stated.

The disease is more likely in late spring and early summer months, but it can occur during the fall and winter, according to the health department's Web site. Dogs, cats and horses also can get become infected.

After a bite from the Black Legged tick, it may be advisable to take an antibiotic as a precaution to help prevent Lyme disease, Gaines said. Otherwise, he advised not taking an antibiotic unless symptoms develop.

To help reduce or prevent exposure to ticks, health officials recommend:

"¢ Avoid potential tick infested areas such as tall grass and dense vegetation.

"¢ Walk in the center of mowed trails.

"¢ Keep grass mowed and underbrush thinned in yards.

"¢ Eliminate the living spaces of small rodents around homes.

"¢ Wear light colored clothing so ticks are easier to see and remove and tuck pant legs in socks and boots.

"¢ Conduct tick checks every four to six hours while in a tick habitat.

"¢ Apply tick repellents that contain up to 50 percent DEET on adults and less than 30 percent DEET for children.

"¢ Ask a veterinarian to recommend tick control methods for pets.

 

 
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