Spring has arrived, and summer is just around the corner. Everyone wants to get outside to stretch their legs and commune with Mother Nature. Cavalier County has many natural wooded and grassy areas that are perfect for hiking and exploring. Along with the exercise and fresh air that comes with being outside, a darker menace could be hiding in the grass and weeds, waiting for an ill-prepared adventurer to walk by and present some exposed skin.
By Lisa Nowatzki
Ticks are voracious and attached themselves to any warm body they find. They burrow their mouthparts in the skin and feed off the host’s blood. Although ticks are commonly thought of as insects, they are ectoparasites (external parasites) that belong to the same group of animals as spiders and scorpions, termed arachnids. Several varieties of ticks are found in the Cavalier County area; they are the American Dog Tick, or some call it a Wood Tick; the Blacklegged Tick also known as the Deer Tick; and the Lone Star Tick.
Though the idea of an animal attaching itself and drinking blood for food is not very appealing, that is not the main reason to try to avoid ticks. Several tickborne diseases have been reported in the state. These diseases have been known to cause death if untreated.
The best way to avoid tick bites is to avoid heavily wooded areas or places with tall grasses and bushes. If someone is unable to avoid these types of areas, then the North Dakota Department of Health recommends the use of insect repellent. Special clothing infused with a chemical called permethrin can also be worn. The compound in the garments is not a repellent but a poison that kills the insects on contact. Wearing the specially infused clothing along with the insect repellent applied to the skin is the ideal combination if someone has to be in a woodland setting.
Some of the drawbacks of the clothing are: the clothing is expensive, and the chemical will wear off. Some of the clothing manufacturers report that the chemical will wear off after 70 washes. Another drawback for the toxic chemical, permethrin is that it does not discourage the insects from making contact with the clothing or skin like the insect repellent does, and it is deadly to cats.
Although chemical repellents like “deet,” discourage insect contact, the repellent does wear off after a few hours and in a shorter time when sweating or swimming. The makers of Deet repellent recommend reapplication every six hours to remain effective as a tick repellant.
Some helpful hints in avoiding tick bites include wearing insect repellent on the skin and clothing, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when walking in wooded areas and fields, wear light-colored clothing to help spot ticks, and always have someone check you and pets for ticks after these types of excursions.
The North Dakota Department of Health (NDDH) issued a statement in April 2018, “The key to preventing tick-borne diseases is to avoid tick bites and find and remove ticks promptly.” It is very important to remove a tick very quickly if it has attached itself.
First, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible with a pair of tweezers. Next, gently pull upwards on the tick, careful not to crush the tick. After removal, disinfect the area of the bite with a topical disinfectant and wash your hands with warm water and soap. Be sure to note the date and place of the bite.
The NDDH also advises not to rub vaseline on the tick, do not use a hot match on the tick, and do not crush or puncture the body of the tick because internal fluids may contain dangerous diseases.
According to the NDDH, by far the most common tick-borne disease in the North Dakota area is Lyme disease. In the last 17 years, nearly 300 cases of Lyme disease has been documented in North Dakota. The deer tick carries this disease. Males and females of all ages can catch Lyme disease. Symptoms may begin as little as one day after the bite or as many as 30 days after the tick bite. Lyme disease is only spread through tick bites and not person to person.
Some of the symptoms of Lyme disease include a circular reddish rash around the tick bite area. Symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue, stiff neck, muscle and or joint pain also occur. Swelling and pain inthe extremities may develop and reoccur over several months or years.
The Deer tick also carries several bacterial infections. One disease is called Anaplasmosis. The symptoms include fever, headache, chills, weakness, muscle pain, and nausea. If left untreated more serious symptoms can occur like internal bleeding, renal failure, and neurological problems.
The symptoms usually start one or two weeks after a tick bite. The disease is not spread person to person, only by the bite of an infected tick. The disease is treated with oral or injected antibiotics. From 2011 to 2017 only 50 cases have been reported in North Dakota and none in Cavalier County.
The Deer tick is also the culprit in a disease called Babesiosis, which is caused by microscopic parasites through the bite of the Deer tick. The onset of symptoms can range from one to three weeks or longer after the tick bite. Human to human contamination does not occur except in rare cases of blood transfusions or from infected mother to unborn child.
Some of the symptoms include flu-like symptoms of fever, sweats, chills, muscle and joint pain, and anemia. The disease is treated with oral antibiotics. From 2011 to 2017 only five cases have been reported in North Dakota and none in Cavalier County.
Another rare but developing disease that scientists are studying is called Alpha-Gal syndrome spread by the Lone Star tick. Some people that are bitten by this tick develop an allergy to red meat, specifically mammalian meat. Doctors are seeing more cases of this strange tick-related meat allergy.
According to the Allergy & Asthma Network, Alpha-Gal syndrome reactions vary with some experiencing sensitivities that go beyond red meat to actual dairy products. Others experience hardly any symptoms. It’s important for people to seek medical attention if they believe they have an allergic reaction.
Ehrlichiosis is another disease caused by the Lone Star tick. From 2011 to 2017 only 15 cases have been reported in North Dakota and none in Cavalier County. The symptoms of this disease include fever, headache, chills, weakness, muscle pain, and nausea. Joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, and confusion have also been associated with the disease.
Symptoms can begin as early as five to ten days after the tick bite. The disease is also not spread from person to person, only by tick bites. If left untreated, symptoms such as respiratory distress, swelling of the brain, bleeding disorders, and kidney failure have been noted in some patients. Ticks usually must be attached for several hours before they pass along the pathogens to the host. The disease is treated with oral or injectable antibiotics.
The American Dog tick bite can cause Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF). The symptoms of RMSF include a sudden high fever which can last for weeks, severe headache, fatigue, muscle pain, chills, and a rash. The rash may start on the legs or arms and spread to include the soles of the feet, the palms of the hands and over the entire body. Symptoms usually appear there to 14 days after the tick bite.
The disease is not spread human to human, only from an infected tick. Treatment includes a course of certain antibiotics. From 2003 to 2017 North Dakota has had 32 documented cases of RMSF but none in Cavalier County.
It is worth noting that infected ticks spread all of these diseases through their bites. Human to human spread of these diseases is not possible. If you have any questions, the North Dakota Health Department can be reached at 800-472-2180 or www.ndhealth.gov.