Watch Out For Ticks!

By Sue Huesken — 1st New Jersey Regiment

What You Don't Know CAN Hurt You!

Ticks are active during the fall as well as spring and summer. The Blacklegged tick (formally called the deer tick) and the LoneStar ticks are the two types of major concern when it comes to transmitting disease to humans. Approximately 50% of Blacklegged ticks are infected and 5% of Lonestars, however Lonestars are a more aggressive tick so chance of being bitten are greater. The American Dog tick can also carry disease.

Most people are aware of Lyme Disease, but other diseases can be transmitted by ticks as well. The most common tickborne diseases in the Eastern section of the United States are Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever as well as Lyme. Some of the ticks are coinfected, and there are documented cases of people with two or three diseases as a result of a single tick bite. Prompt medical attention is necessary to prevent future problems. All are treatable with antibiotics. Coinfection with any of these disease with Lyme will make the Lyme more difficult to treat.

Preventing Tick Bites

Prevention is always best way to avoid illness. As reenactors, it is impossible to follow clothing guidelines for minimizing chances of being bitten. Therefore, using repellents and doing DAILY tick checks are very important. The shorter the time a tick is attached, the lesser the risk of infection. Crawling ticks do not transmit disease, they must attach first. Reminder, blacklegged ticks in the nymph stage are extremely difficult to see and are often the size of a pinhead, or a speck of dirt.

There are two types of repellents. One type is for use on clothing, permethrin. Clothes need to be sprayed and allowed to dry. The other is for use on the skin, common name is deet. Be sure to use one containing at least 30% of the active ingredient.

If you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible. Use tweezers only. Do NOT use alcohol, nail polish, hot matches, petroleum jelly, etc. These methods may traumatize the tick, causing it to regurgitate its gut contents. Grasp the tick with tweezers around its head, as close to the skin as possible. Pull up and out slowly and firmly. Do not prick, crush, or burn the tick as it may release infected fluids. Wash hands and disinfect the bite site and tweezers with antiseptic.

Symptoms of Specific Tickborne Diseases

Babesiosis is a malaria-like infection caused by several Babesia protozoa that parasitize red blood cells. Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, and anemia. A blood test is available. Treatment is with clindamycin and oral quinine.

Ehrlichiosis is caused by rickettsiae-like organisms, which are intracellular parasites. Symptoms include fever, malaise, headache, chills, severe muscle aches/pain, vomiting, anemia, lung infection, decrease in white blood cells, decrease in platelets, and elevated liver enzymes. A rash occurs in a small number of patients. Delayed treatment can result in death. Blood test may help in diagnosis. Treatment is with doxycycline.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is caused by Richettsia rickettsii and is most prevalent in the eastern part of the United States in spite of its name. Symptoms include flu-like aches/pain, headache, chills, confusion, light sensitivity, and high fever. A reddish to black rash (resembling measles) starts on the extremities and may spread to the entire body. Death can occur. Blood tests will not be positive until two weeks after onset. Therefore, doctors must make a clinical diagnosis and treat early, as the main cause of death is delayed or improper treatment. Treatment is with tetracycline/doxycycline.

Lyme Disease is caused by a spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi. Symptoms vary greatly but usually include either an erythemia migrans rash or flu-like symptoms in its earliest stages. Diseminated infection can cause multiple rashes, joint swelling/pain, cranial nerve dysfunction, gastrointestinal problems, neurological changes, heart abnormalities, musculoskeletal weakness and stroke. Diagnosis must be clinical as current tests are not reliable. Treatment is with various antibiotics.

Tickbites should not be taken lightly.

While not all ticks are infected, do not ignore any tickbite. Watch for symptoms and seek medical attention immediately if they occur. If your doctor prefers a "wait and see attitude," find another one immediately. Most medical doctors have little knowledge of tickborne disease. Your future could be at stake over his/her lack of information.

Copyright © 1997 Sue Huesken. All rights reserved.