Guest column: With warm weather come ticks

WNC Parent

What a beautiful time of the year! The days are warmer; the flowers are blooming; the grass is greener; and we’re going outside to enjoy it all. But, we’re not the only ones. Ticks also thrive during times of warmer weather. Ticks can transmit dangerous diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a febrile and potentially deadly illness spread by the Ixodidae family of ticks, e.g., the American dog tick. Despite its name, the highest incidence rates occur in Arkansas, Delaware, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and, yes, North Carolina. According to the CDC, there are 19-63 cases per million persons annually in these areas.

The bacteria Rickettsia rickettsii is the organism responsible for this illness. When ticks carrying R. ricketsii bite, the bacteria can be spread through the tick’s saliva into humans. Common symptoms are fever, rash, sore muscles, headache, nausea, vomiting and lack of appetite. The rash generally occurs within the first six days of illness. This red, splotchy rash starts on the wrists and ankles. Within a few hours, the rash spreads to the rest of the body including the palms and soles. It’s important to note that not all infected individuals will develop this characteristic rash.

Despite the dangers of this illness, there’s a lot we can do to protect ourselves. Avoiding tick habitats, such as grassy areas and areas that border the woods, is the best protection. However, many of our activities take us to these habitats. If you are in grassy or wooded areas, it’s best to wear long pants and sleeves. Apply tick or insect repellent. All pets should receive tick protection per veterinary recommendations.

Risk of R. ricketsii transmission increases with the length of time a tick is attached, therefore, it’s important to remove ticks as soon as possible. When coming inside, clothes should be removed and all members of the household should be thoroughly inspected. If you find a tick, use tweezers to remove the tick. The best method is to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull straight up. Wash the skin with soap and water after removal. Finally, if you or a family member develops fever after a tick bite it’s important to seek immediate medical care.

Dr. Ashley McClary is a pediatrician at McDowell Pediatrics in Marion.

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