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Tick-borne illness on the rise, says CDC

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Brandi Amati and her fiance Scott Reeves have learned how to avoid ticks both at work and play. SUBMITTED

The best part of summer is getting to spend more time outside.

The worst part? The dangers of going outside. According to the Centers of Disease Control, tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme, Spotted Mounted Tick Fever and Powassan are on the rise.

"Each year, more than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported nationwide, while studies suggest the actual number of people diagnosed with Lyme disease is more likely about 300,000," states the CDC report. "Despite these numbers, a recent national survey reported that nearly 20 percent of people surveyed in areas where Lyme disease is common were unaware that it was a risk. Additionally, half of people interviewed in another study reported that they did not routinely take steps to protect themselves against tick bites during warm weather."

Preventing tick bites is possible. Brandi Amati of La Vergne, an avid hiker who has lived -- and hiked -- in Middle Tennessee for several years now, said she always takes precautions.

"I use bug spray and I wear long pants. If you stick to the trail and don't go into high grass, you're usually fine," she said.

In fact, as a surveyor, she runs more risk while at work than she does at play.

"I've gotten ticks at work before because we have to go into overgrown areas searching for our cable often," said Amati. "I've fortunately never gotten a tick-borne illness. I'm extra careful to check for ticks after hiking, because my brother got Lyme disease last year."

Even those who prefer to spend their summers inside run the risk, especially if they have pets that go outside. Amati's brother contracted Lyme disease along with the family dog back in her home state of Pennsylvania.

"Although dogs and cats can get Lyme disease, there is no evidence that they spread the disease directly to their owners. However, pets can bring infected ticks into your home or yard," the CDC reports. "Consider protecting your pet, and possibly yourself, through the use of tick control products for animals."

The earlier a tick-born disease is diagnosed, the better chances for successful treatment.

"He took antibiotics and got better quickly," Amatis said of her brother. "But our cousin is wheelchair bound now because she got Lyme disease and didn't treat it fast enough. It's scary."

Some of the symptoms to look for include:

  • Fever/chills: With all tick-borne diseases, patients can experience fever at varying degrees and time of onset.
  • Aches and pains: Tick-borne disease symptoms include headache, fatigue and muscle aches. With Lyme disease one may also experience joint pain. The severity and time of onset of these symptoms can depend on the disease and the patient's personal tolerance level.
  • Rash: Lyme disease, Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), ehrlichiosis and tularemia can result in distinctive rashes.

In Tennessee, the most dangerous illnesses spread by ticks are Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis. In 2016, there were 581 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever in Tennessee; between 2004 and 2014, there were 16 deaths attributed to Rocky Mountain spotted fever in the state. The CDC reports cases of Lyme disease and Powassan are on the rise.

"For many people, a bite from a mosquito or tick won't cause much more than an itchy, irritating spot on the skin or sometimes mild, flu-like symptoms," said Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. "But for others, a bite can cause a serious illness with major consequences like severe pain, long-term or permanent nerve and brain damage and even death. At this time of year, 'Fight the Bite' strategies are essential in reducing risk of infection and in preventing the potential spread of disease in communities."

The first step of protections, is, of course, prevention. The CDC recommends taking these steps:

  • Avoid areas with high grass and leaf litter and walk in the center of trails when hiking.
  • Use repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin or IR3535 on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours.
  • Use products that contain permethrin to treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents or look for clothing pre-treated with permethrin.
  • Treat dogs for ticks. Dogs are very susceptible to tick bites and to some tick-borne diseases. They may also bring ticks into your home. Tick collars, sprays, shampoos or monthly "top spot" medications help protect against ticks.
  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find crawling ticks before they bite you.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon returning from tick-infested areas. Parents should help children check thoroughly for ticks. Remove any ticks right away.
  • Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on clothing after you come indoors. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed.

The CDC offers these tips for safe tick removal: Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or soap and water. Dispose of a live tick by submerging it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers. Courtesy of CDC


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