MOUNT VERNON — Blacklegged deer ticks were once considered rare in Ohio, but the disease-carrying insect can now be found throughout the state, including Knox County. The blacklegged tick’s existence locally is based on a recently confirmed case of Lyme disease in an individual who has not been out of the county.
Lyme disease is transmitted only by the blacklegged deer tick.
“We’ve had two suspected submissions of black-legged ticks, but the positive case of Lyme disease from someone who has not left the county confirms that the black-legged tick is in Knox County,” said Nate Overholt, R.S., director of environmental health for the Knox County Health Department.
The two submissions, brought in by local residents, are “suspected,” because confirmed testing by the Ohio Department of Health is no longer available due to budget cuts. The health department’s environmental health staff is on its own to identify the ticks using photographs and descriptions provided by ODH. The most common tick that the staff sees is the American dog tick which can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The ticks are more easily identified when they are brought in alive and in an enclosed container, said Overholt.
While the two ticks are different in appearance, they also have different habitats. The black-legged tick is more likely to be found in wooded or brushy areas and in the edge area between lawns and woods. The dog tick is often found in overgrown lots and along weedy roadsides, paths and hiking trails.
“Not all ticks are infected with disease, but those that are, must bite and remain attached for hours in order to transmit diseases,” said Overholt. For the black-legged tick, its 36-48 hours; for the dog tick, it’s four to six hours.
Lyme disease is usually transmitted in the spring and summer by juvenile ticks, which are about the size of a pinhead, and in the fall by adult ticks. Symptoms of Lyme disease may appear between three days to a few weeks after a tick bite. Most, but not all infected people develop a circular, ring-like rash called erythema migrans. Other early symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache and joint pain.
Some symptoms of Lyme disease may not appear until weeks, months or years after a tick bite, affecting joints, nervous system and heart.
Diagnosis of Lyme disease is based on history of tick exposure, signs and symptoms and is aided by the use of blood tests. Lyme disease responds to appropriate antibiotic therapy. Early detection and treatment will reduce the risk of arthritis and other complications.
Most cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever occur between April and August when tick populations are highest and outdoor activities are more common Symptoms of RMSF appear suddenly (typically one week after the bite of an infected tick, but may develop between 2 and 14 days after), and often include high fever, headache and aching muscles. A few days after the onset of illness most, but not all cases develop a pink, non-itchy rash starting on the wrists, forearms and ankles.
It is important to receive the appropriate medical care as soon as possible if RMSF is suspected. The fatality rate is approximately four percent and most deaths occur because there is a delay in seeking medical attention. Blood tests can confirm the presence of the disease, but treatment should begin as soon as possible when symptoms and recent tick exposure suggest RMSF.
“If you develop symptoms following contact with a tick, you should see your doctor,” said Overholt. “Prompt removal of an attached tick will significantly reduce the risk of infection.” If you develop symptoms including fever, flu-like illness or a rash within a few weeks of a tick bite, you should tell you doctor about your tick exposure, advised Overholt. He recommends people record the date of any tick bites in case symptoms occur later.
As explained in a brochure ODH brochure, ticks do not jump, fly or fall out of trees. They wait on low growing plants for a host to pass by. When a person or animal brushes against the vegetation, the tick will cling to fur or clothing and crawl upward, looking for a place to attach and begin feeding. The risk of exposure to ticks and disease can be reduced with the following precautions:
•Avoid tick-infested areas such as tall grass and dense vegetation.
•Tuck your pants into sock tops or boots.
•Wear light-colored clothing to make it easier to find crawling ticks.
•Use repellants and follow label instructions carefully.
•Check yourself, your children and pets frequently for ticks.
•Bathe or shower after exposure to tick habitat (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that may be crawling on you.
Dogs are also at risk for tick-borne diseases and they may carry infected ticks into the home. Infected dogs are not contagious to humans. Keep your yard and outdoor play areas well mowed to discourage tick infestation. Treatments are available to control ticks on dogs. Consult your veterinarian and always follow label instructions. Inspect dogs for ticks every day.
For more information, including photos of the different types of ticks, see the Bugs & Bites page under the Your Family tab on the health department website at www.knoxhealth.com.