ARDMORE, Okla. – Living and playing in the country means living and playing with some of its pests, including those creepy, crawly external parasites known as ticks.
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 Oklahoma Department of Health, at least six different tick-borne diseases have been reported in the state: Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia, Lyme or a lyme-like disease and STARI (Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness).
These illnesses affect kids and adults, although some may have a more potent affect on kids. Children who tend to play in the wooded areas where ticks live may be more at risk.
“The risk of acquiring a tick-borne illness depends on what type of tick bites you and how long it was attached,” said Mercy Clinic physician Brooks Zimmerman, DO. “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.”
Bites can happen after exposure to a tick habitat, without the tick ever being seen. But rather than avoiding ticks by staying indoors, when the outdoors has so much to offer, people can take precautions.
“You can reduce your chances of getting a tick-borne illness by following a few simple steps - use the appropriate repellents, check yourself and your little ones for ticks after being outdoors and shower when you come in,” Zimmerman said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends these actions:
• Use a repellent with DEET on skin. Repellents containing 20 percent or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) can protect up to several hours. The AAP recommends using a product with less than 30% DEET. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding the hands, eyes and mouth. Insect repellents are not recommended for children less than 2 months of age.
• Use products containing permethrin kill ticks. Permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing and camping gear and remain protective through several washings. Permethrin-containing products should not be applied to the skin.
• After you come indoors, remove any ticks that you find from your clothing and run them in the dryer on high heat for about an hour to kill ticks.
• Take a shower. Showering within two hours after being outside has been shown to reduce risks for Lyme disease and it helps wash off unattached ticks.
• Check for ticks. Use a mirror to help check your body for ticks after being outdoors.
• Do not use products that combine DEET with sunscreen. The DEET may make the sun protection factor (SPF) less effective. These products can overexpose your child to DEET because the sunscreen needs to be reapplied often.
“Something else to consider - if you find a tick, be careful how you remove it,” said Dr. Zimmerman. “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 in their yards to reduce ticks and other biting insects.
“Take time to clear tall grass around your home, lay gravel or wood chips between yards and wooded areas and consider using pest control,” said Zimmerman. “It’s also important to keep flea and tick preventative on your pets in order to prevent them from bringing the pests inside your home.”
Dr. Zimmerman is a member of Mercy Clinic Primary Care, 921 14th Avenue NW, Ardmore, Okla. For more information call 580-223-5311.