Ticks are the champions of spreading disease. Mosquitoes, flies, lice, fleas, mites, none of those pesky competitors hold a candle to the diversity of disease-caus- ing organisms that ticks spread to wildlife, domesti- cated animals and humans every year.
Yet, Dr. Tara Claussen, a family medicine doctor in Claremore, said that while many tick-borne diseases are quite serious, only 1 to 3 per- cent of tick bites transmit dis- ease. In addition, Claussen said, new research is showing ticks normally transmit dis- ease only when they are
attached and feeding for sev- eral hours.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), the most common tick-borne disease in Oklahoma, and Oklahoma has the more confirmed cases than any other state, Claussen said, but even that isn’t many.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that there are only than 3,000 con- firmed cases of tick-borne spotted fevers, including RMSF, in the continental United States annually.
Early signs of RMSF may include: fever, headache, rash within two to five days of the bite, nausea, vomiting, stom- ach and muscle pain and a lack of appetite. If left untreated it can progress to a
serious and life-threatening illness in days.
Easily the most well- known tick-borne illness is Lyme disease, with greater than 20,000 cases across the USreportedannually. However, Lyme disease is not a particularly common prob- lem in Oklahoma with less than 1 case per 100,000 peo- ple for all of 1992 to 2006.
However, Claussen said that some of the cases doctors in Oklahoma might have diagnosed as Lyme could have been the recently dis- covered Southern Tick Associated Rash which has similar symptoms, but is caused by a different bacteria.
Another tick-borne illness found in Oklahoma is
Tularemia. “Oklahoma has the high-
est rates, but it’s not as com- mon as you may think,” Claussen said. Tularemia has been known to occur in Oklahoma since the 1920s though there are only 100 to 200 cases around the U.S. each year. Tularemia can be transmitted by handling infected animals (especially rabbits) and by ingesting con- taminated water, but most of the cases in Oklahoma are transmitted by tick bites.
The symptoms of tularemia vary based on how the disease is transmitted and can range from mild to life- threatening according to the CDC. Typically symptoms
include a flu-like illness, pro- longedfever,localized lesions and enlarged, tender lymph node.
Claussen recommended several preventative mea- sures for avoiding common tick-borne illnesses. Avoid tall grasses, if walking on a forest trail stay in the center of the trail, wear light, airy clothing so that you can see any ticks crawling on you and if you need to be in com- mon tick areas, wear bug spray that is designed to repel ticks.
There are other rare but in some cases still life-threaten- ing diseases such as Heartland Virus, Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis for which you may also experience symptoms of fever, tiredness, headache, nausea, lack of appetite or muscle ache.
Claussen said that during
the warmer months everyone who has been in a tick prone area should check them- selves for ticks that same day. If you find a tick, remove it with tweezers and write down the date of the bite.
“Every child who plays outside needs to be checked daily,” Claussen said.
Claussen also addressed some common misconcep-
tions about tick-borne ill- nesses. Not all diseases have rashes, so if you’re feeling ill within days of a tick bite you should go to the doctor. Tick- borne illnesses are not trans- ferred from person to person. And, if you’re healthy and are not yet experiencing symptoms, you will probably do more harm than good by going to the doctor and ask- ing for antibiotics right away.
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