Tick-Borne Illnesses: Six Things You Need to Know

May 10, 2017

By Maggie Randazzo, PharmD
Clinical Pharmacy Coordinator and Co-Chair of the Antibiotic Stewardship Committee
Shore Medical Center

As the summer approaches and you get outside for yard work, soccer games, and barbeques, it’s time to think about protecting yourself from tick-borne illnesses! To keep you and your loved ones safe this summer, take a moment to brush up on your tick-borne illness facts.

  1. What illnesses are spread by ticks? According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ticks can be infected by bacteria, viruses or parasites, and can transmit diseases like Lyme, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. In 2010, more than 22,500 confirmed and 7,500 probable cases of Lyme disease were reported to the CDC.
  2. How serious is the Powassan virus we’ve been hearing about in the news? The Powassan virus is a rare but very serious and potentially fatal tick-borne illness. Symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, and memory loss. It can also cause permanent neurological damage. There is no medication to cure Powassan, and many who are infected require hospitalization. Symptoms can arise from one week up to one month after contracting the virus.
  3. Who is at risk of contracting a tick-borne illness? Ticks are found in wooded areas, high grass, or leaf litter. Deer are carriers of ticks for those who live near wooded areas, and closer to the shore, ticks love the long, marshy grasses along the bay and creeks. When you spend a lot of time outside in these types of areas, you are more at risk of contracting a tick-borne illness such as Lyme. People who work outside during the months of April through October in fields such as in construction, landscaping, and farming are also at risk of infection.
  4. How can you avoid contracting a tick-borne illness? Carefully check for and remove ticks after outdoor activities, especially in warm, dark areas such as the armpits, hairline, and pelvic region. Bathe after outdoor activities where ticks are abundant - this might help wash off ticks that haven’t yet attached. Wear protective clothing - long sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into your socks are recommended when you’re spending time near risky areas. Use tick repellent on skin and clothing - products containing DEET are effective tick repellents to apply to the skin; permethrin can be applied to clothing to prevent tick bites. Avoiding areas where ticks are abundant if possible.
  5. What do I do if I find a tick on me or my child? You should carefully remove the tick (use fine tweezers or one of the tick-removing tools available) and take a photo of the tick. The photo will enable your doctor to decide on a course of action. The risk of acquiring a tick-borne infection is actually quite low. If the tick isn’t attached at all, the tick isn’t able to pass any infection. Deer ticks must feed for >36 hours before transmission of Lyme. Based on the type of tick and the duration of attachment, your doctor may recommend a dose of an antibiotic to prevent transmission of Lyme. You also may be advised to watch and monitor for the classic “bullseye rash”. If this rash develops, you should consult your doctor.
  6. Where can I get more information about tick-borne illnesses? Your doctor and pharmacist can give you more detailed information, or you can consult the CDC’s website: www.cdc.gov.

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