Being Tick Smart

By Laurie Pike

 

May was Lyme Disease Awareness month so this is a good time to talk about being tick smart as tick-borne diseases are on the rise in Maine.  There are over 800 species of ticks worldwide and about one hundred of those transmit diseases.  There are fourteen species of ticks in Maine and only one of those, identified as I. Scapularis, is responsible for the majority of tick-borne illnesses in the State of Maine affecting human beings and domestic animals.  Although Lyme disease is the most prevalent and has increased the most, unfortunately, the tick borne diseases on the rise in Maine are not just Lyme but also Anaplasmosis. Babesiosis, and Powassan Encephalitis.  As the incidents of these diseases have risen in Maine, the importance of identification, tracking of reportable diseases, treatment, education and prevention has become major priorities. 

Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrealia Burgdorferi and is spread through the bite of an infected deer tick.  Recognition of the signs and symptoms of Lyme early is important for the most effective treatment options.  Early signs of Lyme include a ring-like rash around the bite that resembles a bull’s eye with a clearing center and a distinct ring around it; and flu like symptoms such as fatigue, headache, headache, fever and chills, and muscle or joint stiffness.  Early symptoms of Lyme normally occur within the first month after a tick bite, but Lyme symptoms may develop weeks or months or even years after the bite when untreated.  If untreated early, late signs of Lyme disease include arthritis in one or more large joints, neurological problems, memory and concentration problems, and heart problems.  There were 90.2 percent of incidents at the rate per 100,000 residents of Lyme in Maine in 2015.  In Washington County there were 59.7 percent of incidents of Lyme at same rate.  Lyme disease is treated with oral antibiotics in the early stages and with intravenous antibiotics in the later stages.

Anaplasmosis is a bacterial disease infecting human white blood cells that is caused by the bite of an infected deer tick.  Symptoms may be mild to very severe.  Mild symptoms include fever, headache, muscle pain, tiredness, chills, nausea, abdominal pain, cough, and confusion.  Severe symptoms include difficulty breathing, hemorrhage, kidney failure, and neurological problems.  Anaplasmosis is treatable with antibiotics for about ten to fourteen days.  

Babesiosis is a severe tick-borne disease that is caused by a parasite that infects red blood cells and is also transmitted by an infected deer tick.  The tick must generally be attached for a time period of 24-36 hours to transmit the disease so examination of your body after being outside in tick areas is very important.  Signs and symptoms of this disease are fever, fatigue, and anemia that last several days to several months.  Bebesiosis is also treated with antibiotics but serious complications can require a blood transfusion and kidney dialysis if the disease is not recognized and treated in the early stages.

Powassan Encephalitis is a serious viral infection of the brain and surrounding tissues which leaves half its victims with permanent neurological damage.  It is fatal for ten to fifteen percent because there is no specific treatment, but hospitalization with supportive ongoing care may be life-saving.  The chances of contracting this disease, in the State of Maine, are very low thus far.  There have been five cases reported since 2000.  Symptoms include headaches, fever, nausea and vomiting, stiff neck, sleepiness, confusion, breathing distress, seizures, and coma.

Prevention measures are necessary to being safe in the environment and enjoying the outdoors in Maine, especially during the months of April to September when ticks are most active.  Prevention includes avoiding direct contact with ticks by avoiding wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter; repel ticks on skin and clothing with a repellent that contains twenty percent or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin; use products containing five percent permethrin on clothing, boots, tents, and other outdoor gear; find and remove ticks from your body and shower preferably within two hours of coming indoors to wash off and more easily find ticks that may be crawling on your body; conduct a full body check with a mirror paying close attention to creases and in hair; parents should thoroughly check their children for ticks; examine gear and pets because ticks can ride home on them and then attach to a person later; and tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for ten minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after coming indoors.  Other prevention methods in anticipation of being outside would be to wear light-colored clothing; long pants tucked into socks; and do not wear opened toes shoes or sandals.  When hiking and walking stay on trails to minimize contact with adjacent vegetation.  Keep your lawn grass mowed because fewer ticks are found on well-maintained lawns.  Clear leaf litter and woodchip barriers, prune trees, cut back heavy groundcover and ornamental vegetation.   If you have swings and play sets for your children in your yard, make sure to move them away from high risk areas next to wooded and shaded areas with long grass into a well sunlit area.  If you want to be very proactive, you can do plantings that do not attract deer to your yard and you could consider a pesticide application.

If you would like to get a better understanding about ticks, the risk posed, and prevention visit the following websites for more information:  http://www.maine.gov/lyme and http://extension.umaine.edu/ipm/tickid and disease.reporting@maine.gov and you can also get information at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention website and the Center for Disease and Control and Prevention website.  Be smart about ticks and protect your family and pets.