Season of the tick

Their purpose in nature is unclear and unknown, but they are in existence and don’t seem to be migrating to another planet anytime soon. “They” are ticks, and tick season is here in full force.

This past May, the North Dakota Department of Health urged caution during tick season, encouraging people to take measures to avoid tick bites and the potential for serious tick-borne diseases.

Warmer weather and outdoor activities mean people are spending more time outdoors and are more at risk for diseases spread by ticks. Areas that are heavily wooded or have tall grass or brush are more likely to be infested with ticks, especially between April and September, according to Alicia Lepp, epidemiologist with the Department of Health’s Division of Disease Control, in a press release. The highest risk of disease transmission occurs during the warmer months, she added.

Dr. Casmiar Nwaigwe, physician in the infectious disease field at Trinity Health, said there can be an idea of what tick activities are going to be and people are now beginning to find ticks on themselves. Due to the long winter and wet spring, the tick season is more apparent this year.

More foliage is providing more places for ticks to hide, Nwaigwe said, making this year’s tick season seemingly worse.

“More green vegetation equals more of a chance for people to come in contact with ticks,” he added. The major thing to remember, Nwaigwe noted, is that ticks hide in vegetation. Because of the rain, everything is greener and the construction going on in town will bring people in contact with ticks, he said.

Nwaigwe said he has had people come in to his office with tick bites. The tick needs to be attached for 36 to 48 hours to transmit an infection, he added.

In 2012, the Department of Health reported cases of tick-borne diseases including Lyme disease, tularemia, anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis and ehrlichiosis. According to the state health department, tularemia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are transmitted by the bite of an infected dog tick, which is the most common tick found in North Dakota. Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis and ehrlichiosis are diseases that are associated with the bite of a deer tick, which has been identified in areas in the northeastern region of North Dakota.

The most common symptoms of tick-borne diseases, according to the state health department, include fever and chills, headache, fatigue, muscle aches and joint pain. Distinctive rashes may also develop. In Lyme disease, a circular rash may appear at the site of the bite three to 30 days after the tick bite. With Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a rash may begin two to five days after fever onset as a small, flat, pink, non-itchy spots on the wrists, forearms and ankles, and spreads to the trunk of the body. With tularemia, a skin ulcer may appear at the site of the tick bite.

The best way to remove a tick is with tweezers, said Nwaigwe. Try not to squeeze the tick and gently pull it away from the skin. It’s also encouraged that you wash your hands and the site of the tick attachment with soap and water after removal. If you think the tick has been attached for longer, Nwaigwe suggested trying to save the tick if possible because it might be helpful to test for disease.

If you’re going to be spending time in the woods, the best way to avoid getting a tick is to use insect repellent that contains DEET, Nwaigwe said. He also encourages people to wear light-colored clothing since that makes it easier to see a tick, wear long pants, and tuck the legs of the pants into your socks or boots as well as keep your shirt tucked in.

People are also encouraged to check their pets for ticks, Nwaigwe added.

“Always check yourself (for ticks) if you’ve been out in the woods,” Nwaigwe said. “Just having one isn’t cause for alarm.” However, if you have had a tick for longer than 36 or 48 hours, then you should see a doctor, he said. People should also seek medical care if they develop an illness suggestive of a tick-borne disease.