Ticks Too!

— Written By Susan Condlin and last updated by

Last week we talked about the life cycle of the tick, a common pest in North Carolina.  This week we will discuss some of the diseases ticks carry and describe control and prevention techniques.  There are three diseases transmitted by ticks, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, human ehrlichioses, and Lyme disease.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is transmitted by the American dog tick.  The bacteria-like causal organism is extremely pathogenic to humans and dogs.  Fortunately, only a hanful of dog ticks are infected.  Symptoms include headache, fever, chills, aches, pains and nausea.  A rash on the wrists and ankles usually accompanies these symptoms.  The disease is easily cured by antibiotics, so consult a physician if you exhibit these symptoms 2-14 days after a tick bite.

Human ehrlichioses are also caused by a tick-transmitted bacteria.  This time the culprit is the lone star tick; however, the American dog tick has also been implicated.  Human ehrlichioses are severe illnesses, but rarely fatal.  Symptoms are similar to Rocky Mountain spotted fever without a rash.  Severe respiratory and neurological complications can result if left untreated.  This disease is also treated with antibiotics.

Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium transmitted by the black-legged tick in the Northeast.  The lone star tick also carries the disease, but very few are infected.  In the Southeast, the black-legged tick does not tend to bite humans, so fewer cases of Lyme disease are found.  The disease has been divided into three clinical stages with the following symptoms: a bull’s-eye rash, flu-like symptoms (fatigue and muscle aches), cardiac abnormalities, neurological complications, and arthritis.  Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics and there is an FDA-approved vaccine available.

To remove an attached tick, shield your fingers with tissue paper or use tweezers since bacteria can penetrate microscopic breaks in the skin.  Grasp the body firmly and pull directly out.  Do not twist.  If the mouth parts break off in your skin remove them with a sterilized needle as you would a splinter.  Wash the area with soap and water and apply an antiseptic.  Also wash your hands with soap and water.  Mark the date of the tick bite on a calendar in case symptoms develop.  Save the tick in rubbing alcohol so that a positive identification can be made.

Some Tips To Protect Yourself From Ticks:

-Stay on trails and wide paths to avoid tall grass and shrubs.

-Tuck your pant legs into your socks and your shirt into your pants.

-Wear light clothes so you can easily spot ticks.

-Liberally apply a commercial tick repellent if you will be in an infested area.

-Examine your clothing and body twice daily if you have been in an infested area.  Also, check your scalp.

Around the house, ticks can be controlled by keeping grass and weeds mowed.             

Also, be sure to protect Fido with a flea-tick collar!  Not only can dogs get some tick-transmitted diseases, but they can also bring ticks into the living area.

Although ticks can carry a number of diseases, there are easy ways to prevent and control them.  For more information, contact our office at 919-775-5624 or reference Insect Note AG-426: Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases in North Carolina.

North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center