The warmer months encourage people to venture into wilderness areas, thus increasing insect encounters, including tick bites.
The latest CDC data report that there have been about 30,000 cases per year nationwide of the tick-borne Lyme disease, with almost all cases occurring in an 18-state area, including Illinois. The number of those infected appears to be increasing year to year, though not everyone becomes ill.
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 to reduce your chances of brushing against vegetation.
- Consider using an insect repellent 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 while it is stuck to your skin.
Tick mouth parts left in the skin can cause irritation but do not put you at risk for disease as the main body segment does. Clean the irritated 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.
—Brian Svazas, M.D., M.P.H.