Quick tips to ward off ticks

With summer in full swing, many community members are spending time outdoors. During that time, they may be bitten by ticks which might carry Lyme Disease.

Recently, Hamilton County Public Health Director Shelby Kroona said she has seen several myths about the disease being presented as facts on Facebook. One of those myths is that the disease can be simply identified by looking at an insect bite.

Kroona said many insects bite humans. That includes mosquitoes, flies and ticks. Swollen and red skin around the area of a bite is a common reaction to insect bites. Lyme Disease can become apparent in the skin through a rash pattern some time after the bite. Kroona said about 80 percent of people infected with Lyme Disease experience a rash in a “bull’s eye” pattern.

While the rash, not a bite, is one way to identify Lyme Disease infection, Kroona said blood testing is needed to confirm it.

“It’s very important to see your provider if you think you’ve been bitten by a tick because they can test for Lyme Disease and other tickborne diseases,” Kroona said.

Those who have Lyme Disease can experience a range of symptoms from between three to 30 days after the tick bite. In addition to a rash, symptoms include fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches and swollen lymph nodes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kroona said parents who find a tick on their child should observe them and get them medical attention if they deviate from their everyday behavior or patterns within that timeframe.

Kroona said it’s important to be tested and treated for the disease if a person experiences symptoms. That’s because if left untreated, the disease can cause lasting effects. That includes intermittent bouts of arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, according to the CDC, which also said up to five percent of untreated patients may develop chronic neurological complaints such as shooting pains, numbness or tinglings in the hands or feet and problems with short term memory. The disease can be treated with antibiotics.

There are several precautions that people can take to prevent contracting the disease. After someone spends prolonged periods of time outdoors, Kroona said it’s important for that person to examine their skin or that parents examine their children’s skin. That’s because it takes between 24 and 48 hours for the disease to pass from a tick to a person once the tick attaches to their skin.

She advised that blacklegged ticks, or deer ticks, which carry the disease can be difficult to spot and may look like a freckle. Ticks can be found in hair and other places that can be hard to observe. As such, Kroona said showering after being outdoors can help.

Another way to prevent the disease is to discourage bites through bug spray. Kroona said repellant with 30 percent DEET is enough to ward off ticks. She said it’s also important for people to adequately cover themselves in bug spray when going outdoors. That includes spraying on the outside of socks and pants.

Kroona said parents need to read the labels of bug spray they use on their children. Not all sprays are suitable for young children. Kroona said bug spray should never be used on someone under two-months old. It’s also important for parents to consider where they spray their children, as they may put their hands in their mouth. She said lemon eucalyptus oil, an alternative insect repellant, is not recommended for use on children under the age of two.

By taking these steps before and after going outdoors, Kroona said a person’s chance of contracting Lyme Disease decreases.

“If you’re out and about and you’ve worn bug spray, you come in and you inspect your skin and you shower, the likelihood of having a tick stay on you is minimal,” Kroona said.

For more information, Kroona recommends the CDC, Mayo Clinic and Iowa Department of Public Health websites. Kroona said she uses those websites to find the most accurate, up to date information on a variety of health issues.