Tick season is upon us, bringing the dreaded pests into our outdoor activities. Ticks can be active whenever it is above freezing with little to no snow cover and bring an increased risk of tickborne disease transmission from late spring to early fall. The key to preventing tickborne diseases is to avoid tick bites and find and remove ticks promptly. To avoid tick bites, the ND Department of Health recommends recognizing where ticks live, using a tick repellant, checking for ticks on yourself and your pets, and minimizing the landscape that harbors ticks.
Ticks thrive in areas with high grass, leaf litter, brush and woods so avoid these when you can. Walk in the center of trails to avoid contact with ticks. Use an Environmental Protection Agency registered insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. The EPA has an online search tool at www.epa.gov/insect-repellents/find-repellent-right-you to help you find a tick repellant that best suits your needs. Talk to your veterinarian about the best tick prevention products for your pets and tickborne diseases in your area.
After you come indoors check your clothing for ticks and remove any you find. You can tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed. If the clothes require washing first, hot water is recommended. Conduct a full body check on yourself and your kids when you return from outdoors, especially in and around the hair and ears, under the arms, inside the belly button, around the waist, between the legs and the back of the knees. Shower within two hours of coming indoors to help wash off unattached ticks.
Carefully examine pets, coats, and backpacks, as ticks can be brought into the home on gear and pets then attach to a person later. Check your pets daily for ticks after they spend time outdoors, especially in and around the ears and eyelids, under the collar, under the front legs, between the back legs, between toes, and around the tail. Remove a tick right away if one is found on your pet.
To remove a tick that has attached to the skin, use a fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Avoid folk remedies like petroleum jelly, nail polish remover or burning matches to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible - not waiting for it to detach.
If you live near a wooded area, you can reduce tick habitat with good lawn maintenance and upkeep. Remove leaf litter, mow the lawn frequently, clear out tall grasses and brush around your home and the edge of your lawn. Make a landscape barrier (such as a three-foot wide border of wood chips or gravel) between your lawn and the woods. Keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees.
The most common ticks that people come across in North Dakota are the American dog tick and the blacklegged tick commonly known as the deer tick. Sometimes ticks carry germs like bacteria or viruses that can be transmitted to a person while the tick is attached and feeding, causing Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, or Tularemia. According to the ND Department of Health - Division of Disease Control, ND averages over 30 documented cases of Lyme Disease every year, and all six diseases mentioned have appeared in the state. They also confirmed Cavalier County has had a documented case of Anaplasmosis and one of Ehrlichiosis in the past 5 years.
Depending on the type of tick and germ, a tick needs to be attached to you for different amounts of time (minutes to days) to infect you with that germ. Your risk for Lyme Disease is very low if a tick has been attached for fewer than 36 hours, so check for ticks daily and remove them as soon as possible. Contact your health care provider if you get a fever and/or chills, aches and pains (including headache, fatigue, muscle aches, or joint swelling/pain), or a rash within 30 days after a tick bite. Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia and Ehrlichiosis can result in distinctive rashes.
In Lyme Disease the rash may appear within 3-30 days, typically before the onset of fever. The Lyme Disease rash is the first sign of infection and is usually a circular rash. This rash occurs in approximately 70-80% of infected persons and begins at the site of the tick bite. The rash seen with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever varies from person to person in appearance, location, and time of onset. About 10% of people with Rocky Mountain spotted fever never develop a rash. Most often, the rash begins 2-5 days after onset of fever as small, flat, pink, non-itchy spots on the wrists, forearms, and ankles and spreads to the trunk. The red to purple spotted rash is usually not seen until the sixth day or later after onset of symptoms and occurs in 35-60% of patients. In the most common form of Tularemia, a skin ulcer appears at the site where the organism entered the body. The ulcer is accompanied by swelling of regional lymph glands, usually in the armpit or groin. Ehrlichiosis can cause a rash in about 30% of patients and up to 60% in children. The appearance of the rash varies and may appear after the onset of fever.
Most tickborne diseases can be treated with antibiotics, and early detection is important to prevent potentially severe complications. Treatment should be based on symptoms, history of exposure to ticks, and laboratory test results.
The ND Department of Health is conducting tick surveillance again this year with the help of voluntary participants across the state. Ticks are submitted for identification and testing from April until November. This surveillance is important to help the NDDoH understand the types of ticks and tickborne diseases present in North Dakota. Residents can participate in tick surveillance by submitting pictures of ticks at www.health.nd.gov/Tickborne.