The warmer months encourage people to venture into wilderness areas, increasing insect encounters. The Fermilab Medical Office has already seen two employees for tick removal in March, In the northeast U.S., there is fear of an uptick in disease transmission this year due to the synchronization of food source, tick and mouse population. A year of abundant acorns such as last year leads to an explosion of white-foot mice, which can harbor the Lyme disease bacteria that ticks can acquire from a blood meal. Later, ticks can transmit the bacteria to humans.
Cases are being seen at an increasing rate with the latest estimate at 400,000 cases of Lyme disease per year in the United States. The most severe manifestations of Lyme disease are arthritis, heart conduction problems or nerve inflammation. Your chance of getting infected with Lyme disease increases if you are bitten by a deer tick or a black-legged tick, or if the tick goes undiscovered and feeds for an extended period of time.
You can protect yourself from ticks by doing the following:
- Wear light-colored clothing to better spot a hitchhiking tick.
- Wear a hat.
- Stay in the center of trails so that you reduce your chances of brushing against vegetation.
- Consider using an insect repellant containing up to 30 percent DEET. A permethin-based product can be applied to clothing, but it has potential for causing skin rashes, so any coated items need to be dry before wearing.
- Inspect yourself for ticks after venturing outdoors.
If a tick bites you, remove it as soon as possible by grabbing it as close to the skin as you can with tweezers and pulling the tick out in a straight direction. Do not burn the tick or try to smother it.
Tick mouth parts left in the skin can cause irritation, but do not put you at risk for disease like the main body segment does. Clean the area with soap and water. A red ring rash that spreads outward from the bite site may appear in as soon as three days. This could be indicative of a more serious health problem, so see your doctor as soon as possible. The Fermilab Medical Office will assist with the identification and removal of ticks.
—Dr. Brian Svazas