As you enjoy warm summer days outside, Cumberland Plateau District Epidemiologist Paige Lucas warns everyone to take steps to prevent tickborne diseases, because the number of reported cases have been increasing in Virginia over the past few years.
To protect against tick bites and the diseases they may cause, the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that you:
• Avoid areas with high grass and leaf litter, and walk in the center of trails when hiking.
• Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone. Always follow product instructions.
• Use products that contain permethrin to treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and camping tents. Do not apply permethrin directly to a person to prevent tick bites.
• Treat dogs for ticks. Dogs are very susceptible to tick bites and to some tickborne diseases.
• 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. Remove any ticks right away.
• Bathe or shower as soon as possible after being outdoors to wash off and more easily find crawling ticks before they bite you.
• Wash and keep clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes after fully dry to kill ticks after you come indoors.
Common tickborne illnesses in Virginia include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis. Symptoms for each of these illnesses can range from mild to potentially life-threatening.
• Lyme disease is caused by the bite of an infected blacklegged (deer) tick. Symptoms develop three days to a month after exposure, and include a “bull’s-eye” skin rash that spreads, fever, headache and fatigue. If untreated, it can cause arthritis, facial paralysis and memory problems.
• Spotted fever rickettsia (including Rocky Mountain spotted fever) is caused by the bite of an infected American dog tick. Symptoms appear two days to two weeks after exposure, including fever, rash, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal and muscle pain and lack of appetite.
• Ehrlichiosis is caused by the bite of an infected Lone star tick. Symptoms develop one to two weeks after exposure, and include fever, chills, severe headache, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and confusion. If untreated, it can cause nervous system damage, respiratory failure and uncontrolled bleeding.
The CDC reported a record number of all tickborne illness reports in 2017 and triple the number of Lyme disease cases since the late 1990s. VDH also has recorded similar increases over time, and in southwest Virginia.
“We expect that tickborne illnesses will continue to be a problem across Virginia,” said Lucas. “Every year hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. are bitten by ticks and get sick, so it’s important to know about the risks and to protect yourself, your loved ones and your animals against tick bites.”
For more information about ticks and other pests, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-epidemiology/bugs-human-health and www.cdc.gov/media/dpk/diseases-and-conditions/lyme-disease/index.html.