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Sea Sick: Disabling tick diseases can be hard to diagnose

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Sea Sick: by Keith Murray

Something about things that feed off my blood tends to raise the hair on the back of my neck. One of those things is a tick. Ticks can be much more than a gross annoyance, though, they can actually make you very sick or lead to death.

Ticks, small arachnids considered to be ectoparasites (external parasites), live by feeding on the blood of mammals, birds, and sometimes reptiles and amphibians. Ticks can generally be found near the ground, in brushy or wooded areas. Because ticks cannot jump or fly,  they must climb onto you. Ticks often climb tall plants waiting for a potential host to brush against them. The tick will then climb onto the host, typically climbing further up the body to find a good place to attach and begin feeding.

Ticks can cause a large number of infections. Sometimes they harbor more than one type of pathogen, making diagnosis of the infection more difficult.  Species of the bacterium rickettsia are responsible for typhus, rickettsialpox, Boutonneuse fever, African tick bite fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Flinders Island spotted fever and Queensland tick typhus (Australian tick typhus).

Other tick-borne diseases include Lyme disease and Q fever, Colorado tick fever, Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever, tularemia, tick-borne relapsing fever, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Bourbon virus and tick-borne meningoencephalitis, as well as bovine anaplasmosis and probably the Heartland virus. Some species, notably the Australian paralysis tick, are also intrinsically venomous and can cause tick paralysis.

In the U.S., we often hear about Lyme disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, Lyme disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.  Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. In 2017, it was estimated that approximately 30,000 people contracted Lyme disease.

An unusual tick that is becoming more common in the southern U.S.  is the lone star tick. Symptoms can mimic food poisoning or a severe allergic reaction with a rash. Southern tick associated rash illness (STARI) occurs after the bite of the lone star tick and appears to be very similar to Lyme disease.  The very odd part of this tick bite is that it can force you to become a vegetarian – one of the side effects of getting bitten is developing an allergy to red meat.

A 2018 study found that red meat allergies are on the rise in the U.S. due to tick bites. Other studies have also concluded that instances of Lyme disease have reached record highs.

Avoiding areas with lots of ticks is the best prevention option, but sometimes you want to go for a hike in the woods or take a nice walk down the trail. So here are a few tips to make you less likely to get ticks.

Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin. You can also purchase clothing already treated with a tick repellent such as permethrin.

Wear clothing that covers your skin, tuck your shirt into your pants and your pant legs into your boots to make it harder for ticks to climb up you and attach to your skin.  

Check for ticks daily, especially under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and on the hairline and scalp.

Shower soon after being outdoors.

If you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible. There are many different methods people try, such as smothering the tick with Vaseline, nail polish or alcohol, or burning it off – but the best and safest route is to pull it off with tweezers.
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 clean tweezers. If you are not able to remove the head and mouth of the tick easily, the body will expel it as it heals.

After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.

EMT Keith Murray provides onboard CPR, AED and first-aid training as well as AED sales and service. His company can be found at TheCPRSchool.com. Comments are welcome below.

 

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF UNTREATED LYME DISEASE
Please note, there are many diseases carried by ticks and some may appear similar to Lyme disease. If you have been bitten by a tick, please seek qualified medical attention.  
Early symptoms of Lyme disease
(3 to 30 days after tick bite):

  • Fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes.
  • Approximately 70-80 percent of infected people experience a rash that begins at the site of a tick bite after a delay of three to 30 days – the average is about seven days. The rash expands gradually over a period of days, reaching 12 inches or more (30 cm) across.  It may feel warm to the touch, but is rarely itchy or painful. Sometimes the rash clears as it enlarges, resulting in a target, or “bull’s-eye,” appearance. The rash may appear on any area of the body.

Later symptoms of Lyme disease
(days to months after tick bite):

  • Severe headaches and neck stiffness.
  • Additional rashes on other areas of the body.
  • Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly in the knees and other large joints.
  • Facial palsy, meaning loss of muscle tone or droop on one or bith sides of the face.
  • Intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joints and bones.
  • Heart palpitations, or an irregular heart beat )Lyme carditis).
  • Episodes of dizziness or shortness of breath.
  • Inflammation of the brain and spinal  cord.
  • Nerve pain, including shooting pains, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet.
  • Short-term memory problems.

Source:  U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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