Prevention key to fighting tick-borne disease news sgas belfast

"I generally immediately prescribe doxycycline, unless the patient has some sort of allergy," Ward said. "We usually don’t even wait for the labs to come back, because the disease can progress so rapidly. If the patient has a rash or localized infection that is consistent with a rickettsial disease, we begin treatment."

"There are threefold increases in some of these diseases," Ward said. "I do think some of that is due to the diseases getting more attention, and people paying more attention and reporting them. But there are also some new diseases that have been found to be transmitted by ticks."

The five most common tick-borne diseases are carried by ixodes scapularis – known in Oklahoma and much of the U.S. as the deer tick – which could be a reason some diseases have risen at roughly the same rates in recent decades. There are theories that climate change is stimulating longer tick seasons and widening their ranges, resulting in more bites and infections.

Oklahoma and North Carolina have the highest incidence of Rocky Mountain spotted fever. In a typical year, the two states account for a third of cases nationally. Flu-like symptoms appear three to 14 days after the bite. Insomnia and even delirium is possible. Half of cases are accompanied by rashes on the hands and feet a few days after symptoms manifest. It is easily treated, but mortality approaches 20 percent without medical care.

Lyme disease is most common in the northeast U.S. and around the western Great Lakes. There was a rise of incidence in Oklahoma during the 1990s and early 2000s, averaging about two dozen a year. The State Department of Health often reports finding ticks with Lyme disease, but still classifies it as low risk for Oklahomans.

Rashes accompany Lyme disease more than half the time, and they usually form a bulls’-eye around the bite. Symptoms are flu-like. The disease is rarely fatal and many can recover without treatment, but the real danger is the onset in some people of pain similar to arthritis months or even a year later, which can result in permanent disability. Hence, early detection and treatment is essential.

• Tick paralysis, possibly caused by an allergic reaction to tick saliva. Paralysis progresses and can lead to death in as little as 24 hours. But if the tick is removed, symptoms usually clear. If a person displays unexplained symptoms of paralysis, seek medical treatment and check for ticks immediately.

• Heartland virus, a rare disease linked to the Lone Star tick. In the first 10 cases reported, there were two fatalities. Symptoms are similar to monocytic ehrlichiosis, but because the disease is caused by a virus, antibiotic treatments are not effective.

• Tularemia, which can be contracted by handling infected rabbit carcasses or drinking contaminated water, but it is usually transmitted by ticks. It is rare, with cases usually numbering less than 200 per year. Flu-like symptoms may improve, then return with localized lesions after a couple of weeks. Breathing can become difficult.

• The alpha-gal allergy – a reaction to the ingestion of red mammal meat – has recently been linked to the Lone Star tick in the U.S. Respiratory distress occurs three to eight hours after eating read meat in 70 percent of those afflicted. The alpha-gal carbohydrate is present in all mammals but apes and humans. If a tick bites another animal, then bites a person allergic to the carbohydrate, symptoms can manifest.

"Wear light-colored clothing so you can see them," Ward said. "Get cleaned up and check yourself when you get in. If a tick bites, the best thing to do is just remove it, using gentle pressure from tweezers. Make sure you don’t leave the head or mouth parts, and clean the area well with rubbing alcohol. Wrap it in Scotch tape – something it can’t get itself away from – or put it in a little container with some rubbing alcohol, and throw it away. Do not pinch the tick to death between your fingers. I know that is tempting, but you just spread the diseases inside it all over your fingers."

Roger Williams, agriculture educator for the Cherokee County office of the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service, said ticks can be controlled near the home with proper yard care. Lawns should be kept mowed. Areas under shade should be monitored for tick activity, and insecticide can be applied.

"Wherever there is good habitat, like grass knee-high and wet, that is where ticks will be," Williams said. "I don’t think the harshness of the winter really has much bearing on the number of ticks the following summer. The biggest insecticide is bifenthrin – that is the number one chemical people end up putting down for ticks."