arm weather is finally arriving in Indiana, but as Hoosiers start taking advantage of the arrival of spring, so are ticks. State health officials are cautioning people to protect themselves from ticks as they spend more time outside.
Ticks are small, insect-like creatures often found in naturally vegetated areas or woodlands throughout Indiana. Ticks can transmit illnesses, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Last year, Indiana confirmed 63 cases of Lyme disease, two cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and 19 cases of Ehrlichiosis.
"Now that it's getting warmer outside, ticks are active and people are more likely to be exposed to them," said Jennifer House, D.V.M., veterinary epidemiologist at the Indiana State Department of Health. "Ticks are carriers of a number of diseases and all ticks should be considered infectious and capable of transmitting diseases, even though some are not."
If you plan to enter a grassy or wooded area where ticks are often present, the best way to prevent tick-transmitted diseases is to wear a long-sleeved shirt and light-colored pants, with the shirt tucked in at the waist and the pants tucked into socks. The use of repellents provides even more protection.
Insect repellents containing DEET or picaridin can be sprayed on both skin and clothing to repel ticks and other insects. People who expect to be exposed to ticks for extended periods of time should use products containing permethrin on their clothing, but not on bare skin. Permethrin is an insecticide that kills ticks and other insects on contact.
After leaving a grassy or wooded area, people should check for ticks on clothing and skin. Ticks need to be attached for several hours to a couple of days before they can infect an individual.
"Ticks can be safely removed if they are attached to your skin," Dr. House said. "They can be removed with either tweezers or forceps by grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull upward with steady and even pressure without squeezing the tick. Don't remove ticks with fingers, but if tweezers or forceps are not available, you can use tissue paper or a paper towel to prevent the passing of any possible infection."
If a person does become ill after finding an attached tick, they should see a medical provider immediately. Tick-borne diseases can all be successfully treated with antibiotics, and prompt diagnosis can help prevent complications.
Common tick-related illnesses include Lyme disease, Rock Mountain spotted fever and Ehrlichiosis. Lyme disease is often associated with a persistent, slowly expanding blotchy red rash which is usually fainter at the center than at the edges. Other signs and symptoms include joint pain, especially in the knees or weakness of the facial muscles. The symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Ehrlichiosis are similar. They include a moderate-to-high fever, coupled with fatigue, muscle aches and pains, severe headaches, and chills. A rash may also develop shortly after disease onset, first appearing on the arms, legs, palms of the hand and soles of the feet before spreading to other parts of the body. The rash is not present in all cases.
For more information about tick-borne disease prevention, visit the Indiana State Department of Health's website.