It’s not news to say that ticks are nasty little pests. If you spend any time outside in the summer (and you should), ticks are hard to avoid, hard to spot, and hard to remove. None of that is different from every previous year.
What is different is that they seem to be multiplying and spreading.
The number of ticks and tick bites, has increased significantly in recent years. With the rise in bites, you may think that the increase in tick-borne diseases would be on the rise too. Not to fear, though, Americans can protect themselves from the pests this summer with a few simple steps.
Dr. Jon Oliver, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis said that transmission of dangerous diseases related to tick bites like Lyme disease, which affects up to 35,000 people every year and originates from rats, and Alpha-gal syndrome is rarely transmitted.
Still, people should take precautions this summer because even a slight risk of developing the disease is still a risk. The number of ticks interacting with humans increases as Americans invade their habitat.
Dr. Oliver explained, “Its important to recognize tick habitats. Different ticks based in different areas of the country can transmit different diseases.”
Deer ticks, which are the most common species of tick in the U.S. tied to Lyme disease, often live in forested habitats and areas of high moisture, Oliver says.
Because of this, they are most active across the South during late June, July, and August.
Lone star ticks – which are responsible for Alpha-gal syndrome and make its victim allergic to red meat – Have traditionally prefered drier conditions and can be found in parts of the U.S. southwest.
At least… they were.
In the last couple of decades, Lone Star Ticks have spread throughout the South and into the Midwest.
In 2009, two Missouri men became extremely ill with a new set of symptoms. Doctors eventually called it Heartland Disease, and tied it to lone star ticks. In the 13 years since, more than 50 cases have been identified in 11 different states, most recently as far South as Georgia.
Ticks are spreading. That means you are more likely than ever to need to deal with them.
No matter which tick is common in your area, the recommendation for how to deal with the pests remains the same:
- Use any sort of EPA recognized insect repellent
- Avoid brushier areas where ticks congregate
- Wear long sleeves and pants to serve as a barrier
- Perform regular tick checks, especially after coming in from outdoors
“Most tick-borne diseases require a tick to feed for at least 24 hours before transferring the bacterial disease,” Dr. Oliver said.
The bugs can stick to a person for a long time. With each passing hour, they are attached to the host, increasing the likelihood they pass on a potentially dangerous disease.
He explains that within the first 24 hours of a tick attaching itself to a human, the risk of disease transmission is low. However, after 36 hours, the risk would have rapidly increased. And by 60 hours, there is almost a 100% chance of transmission.
If a person believes they have had a tick attached to them for 24 hours, Dr. Oliver recommends seeking medical attention.
“You should definitely not panic… [but] ‘if you develop flu-like symptoms or any sort of rashes or illness of any kind, you should tell your doctor,” he said. He explains that infections are rare, with only around half of ticks actually being infected with a disease like Lyme disease.
Even when a person does get infected, they often manage to deal with it without medical treatment, and they may not even know they were suffering from the infection at all.
Dr. Oliver believes that official figures may only be catching around ten percent of cases – with about 300,000 people likely being infected every year.
With only around 1% of tick bites leading to an infection, this means that millions of people are unknowingly getting bitten every year.
“There are far more ticks than there were 20 years ago, and the distribution of ticks has expanded a lot,’ he said, a precursor for what may come with Lyme disease and other illnesses.
Go outdoors. Spend time in nature. But take precautions and double check that you aren’t bringing too much nature home with you!