Labor Day may mark the end of summer, but there’s still time for tick bites.
The end of summer and fall means outdoor activities and keeping company with outdoor pests, including those creepy, crawly external parasites known as ticks. Tick bites can lead to rashes, fevers, chills, aches and pains with a severity and duration ranging from mild to serious.
Ticks live in moist and humid environments, and most often in wooded and grassy areas. In the United States, ticks are responsible for more human disease than any other insect.
According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, at least six different tick-borne diseases have been reported in the state: Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia, Q-fever, Lyme Disease and STARI (Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness).
Recently, two cases of a new tick-borne illness, the Heartland Virus, made headlines in St. Joseph, Mo. It was characterized by low white blood cell counts, fever, chills and diarrhea.
“The risk of acquiring a tick-borne illness really depends on what type of tick bit you and how long it was attached,” said Mercy Clinic pediatrician Marissa Stock, MD. “If a rash develops at the site where the tick was or you get a fever in the days or weeks after a tick bite, you should see a doctor.”
Dr. Stock recommends that families take precautions to try to avoid tick bites.
“You can reduce your chances of getting a tick-borne illness by using repellents, checking yourself and your little ones for ticks and showering after being outdoors,” she said.
These recommendations are from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics:
• Use a repellent with DEET and follow package instructions. Repellents containing 20 percent or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) can protect for several hours.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a product with less than 30 percent DEET on children. Insect repellents are not recommended for children less than 2 months of age.
• Use products containing permethrin to kill ticks on clothing and outdoor equipment. Permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing and camping gear and remains protective through several washings. Permethrin-containing products should not be applied to the skin.
• After being outside, check clothing for ticks, and run clothing through the dryer on high heat for about an hour to kill any ticks that might have been missed.
• Take a shower. Showering within two hours after being outside has been shown to reduce risks for Lyme disease and helps wash off unattached ticks.
• Check for ticks. Use a mirror to help check for ticks after being outdoors.
• Do not use products that combine DEET with sunscreen. Using the products together can overexpose a child to DEET and the DEET may make the sun protection factor (SPF) less effective.
“If you find a tick, be careful about how you remove it,” said Dr. Stock. “The best way to remove a tick is to use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible, pull it straight out and then clean the bite area with soap and water.”
People can take additional precautions by keeping yards trimmed, deterring wildlife and using bug sprays as directed. Family pets should be on flea and tick preventatives to keep them from tracking pests into the home.
Dr. Stock is a member of Mercy Clinic Pediatrics, 901 Patients First Drive in Washington. For more information, call 636-231-3690.