Getting Ticked Off!

— Written By ascheck and last updated by

There are few things that I despise as much as ticks. Ticks are everywhere this time of year in NC and are certainly one of my least favorite pests to encounter in the garden. Not only are ticks a huge nuisance, they are also vectors for many diseases including Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. There is also a new disease spread by ticks that is causing people to develop severe red meat allergies. There are many less common diseases that are also spread by various species of ticks.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection and is one of the most common illnesses spread by ticks. The disease, spread by the black-legged tick, was first documented in 1975 in the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut. Since then it has spread to spread to most of the eastern US. Symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, rash, and fatigue, but if left untreated the infection can spread to your joints causing arthritis like symptoms. Thankfully Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics.

Another disease spread by ticks in Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. This bacterial infection spread by American dog ticks and brown dog ticks and is capable of infecting both dogs and humans. This disease can cause fever, headache, muscle and abdominal pain, as well as vomiting. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can prove to be fatal if left untreated. Treatments for this disease work best if they are started early.

There is also a new ailment that is causing people to develop allergies to red meat after receiving tick bites. The disease, spread by the lonestar tick, is not entirely understood at this time, but causes your body to produce an antibody that attacks Alpha-Gal, a sugar found in the mammalian cells. Once someone gets the disease they will experience a delayed anaphylactic shock after eating red meat. There is no treatment available for this new disease other than to completely stop consuming red meat.

Prevention is key in order to not contract any of these nasty, tickborne diseases. Treat your pets for ticks to prevent them from spreading ticks to you. Also, layer your clothing while outside and wear insect repellant. When traveling in tick infested areas avoid brushing against shrubs and grass because that is where ticks hide. There are some commercial repellants available with an active ingredient known as permethrin that do an outstanding job at killing ticks when used on clothing and other gear.

If you experience any abnormal symptoms after being bitten by a tick seek medical attention as soon as possible. In most cases, getting treated right away will increase your chances of making a full recovery from tickborne diseases. Also be sure to use good preventative tactics in order to avoid getting bit in the first place. If you must be in a tick-infested area be sure to inspect yourself regularly for ticks and remove any immediately if you find them. With a little prevention and careful monitoring the likelihood of getting bitten by a tick in your garden can be greatly reduced.

For more information on ticks, contact N.C. Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center (919-775-5624).

Alec Check is doing a Horticulture Internship with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County this summer.