Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Tickborne diseases increasing in U.S. due to greater tick density and expanding range

Deer TickAre you a wildlife photographer? Do you photograph wildlife in the Eastern half of the United States, especially in the Northeast, or along U.S. West Coast? That's prime Deer Tick territory.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of reported cases of tickborne disease in the U.S. has more than doubled over the past 13 years. Fully 82 percent of reported tickborne disease in the U.S. is Lyme disease.
According to a new advisory from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), tickborne diseases are likely to significantly increase.

There are far too many amazing wildlife areas with a significant Deer Tick population to to consider skipping wildlife photography in those areas. I enjoy more than 100 sessions each year in such areas. It is critical, however, for wildlife photographers in areas known to have dense deer tick populations to learn about tickborne disease, especially Lyme disease, its treatment and methods to prevent contracting Lyme disease.

Deer Ticks, otherwise known as Blacklegged Ticks, are the primary transmitters (vectors) of Lyme Disease, a debilitating, though rarely fatal infection, which is often misdiagnosed because its early symptoms can closely resemble flu.

Deer Ticks aren't the only ticks in the areas in which they live. For example, in the U.S. Middle Atlantic states, as well as New England, the American Dog Tick is widely found, and generally in the same habitats as the Deer Tick. Both tend to live in wooded areas and along trails in forests and grasslands.

While Dog Ticks are known transmitters of Rocky Mountain Spotted and Colorado Tick Fever, they don't transmit Lyme Disease.

Both Deer and Dog Ticks are most active during the spring, early summer and fall.

According to a new article in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, “the rising incidence and expanding distribution of Lyme disease in the United States are probably multifactorial, but increased density and range of the tick vectors play a key role. The geographic range of I. scapularis (Deer Tick) is apparently increasing: by 2015, it had been detected in nearly 50% more U.S counties than in 1996.”

Identifying ticks which have bitten you is an important aid to doctors treating you. While the size of Deer Ticks vary, depending on sex and feeding state, Deer Ticks, often misidentified as American Dog Ticks, are only about half the size of Dog Ticks.

Female Deer Ticks, approximately the size of a sesame seed, measure about 2.7 mm (tenth of an inch) in length. Males are smaller. The Deer Tick is orange-brown but may change to be rust or brown-red following feeding. Deer Ticks become engorged after feeding, but they're still much smaller than the common American Dog Tick.

Deer Tick bites are almost painless. Bite victims, more often than not, never realize they've been bitten until symptoms appear. Campers, hikers and wildlife photographers should always check themselves thoroughly. After a wildlife photography shoot I thoroughly check my body for ticks, especially in hairy areas where ticks can more easily hide while feeding. As Deer Tick females typically feed for extended periods, they can be often found during a body check, still attached to the skin of their bite victims.

To safely remove a tick:
  • Use pointed tweezers to grasp ticks by the head or mouth right where they enter the skin. DON'T grasp the tick by the body.
  • Pull firmly and steadily outward. DO NOT jerk or twist the tick.
  • Place ticks in a small container of rubbing alcohol to kill them.
  • Clean the bite wound with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.
  • Monitor the site of the bite for the next 30 days for a rash. If a rash appears or you have flu-like symptoms, contact your physician immediately.
You can protect yourself from Deer Ticks to prevent contracting Lyme Disease, but the measures aren't foolproof.
  • Wear light-colored clothing with a tight weave to spot ticks easily.
  • Wear walking/hiking boots, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck your pants legs into your socks in boots and your shirt into your pants.
  • Check clothes and exposed skin for ticks regularly while hiking.
  • Consider using insect repellent. Permethrin or DEET based products are generally effective, with most experts rating Permethrin based products the best.
  • Avoid sitting directly on the ground or on stone walls.
  • Keep long hair tied back.
  • Take a bath or shower as soon as possible after completing your hike to more easily find ticks on your body and in your hair.
  • Perform a full-body tick check at the end of every hike and walk. Remove ticks promptly.
According to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director, Anthony S. Fauci, M.D, et al., in their paper, “Tickborne Diseases — Confronting a Growing Threat,”
“Although most cases are successfully treated with antibiotics, 10 to 20 percent of patients report lingering symptoms after receiving appropriate therapy.”
Early diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease is important. The earlier the diagnosis, the more effective and fast acting the treatment.
Lyme Disease symptoms include:
  • Rash – Redness expanding from the bite in a bull's-eye pattern. Some people develop this rash at several locations other than surrounding the bite.
  • Flu like symptoms – Fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, and a headache are all symptoms of Lyme Disease.
  • Joint pain – Several weeks or months after being infected victims may develop severe joint pain and swelling. The pain may move about the body to other joints.
  • Neurological problems – Weeks or months after being infected, victims may experience meningitis, Bell's palsy, numbness and weakness in the limbs and impaired muscle movement.
  • Other problems – Less common symptoms may involve irregular heartbeat, eye inflammation, liver inflammation and severe fatigue.
Not all Deer Tick bites lead to Lyme Disease, but the longer the Deer Tick remains attached to your skin, the more likely you will contract Lyme Disease.

If you believe you've been bitten by a Deer Tick, and experience any of the above symptoms, contact your physician immediately, even if the symptoms quickly disappear. Just because the initial symptoms go away, doesn't mean the disease is gone. Left untreated, Lyme Disease can spread, worsen and take much longer to treat.


Frank - Cherry Hill said...

Ned, I was in the Wharton tract in NJ last week and had a bunch of dog ticks on me when I checked at the end of the day to drive home. I didn't know about Permethrin you mentioned. DEET didn't seem to do a thing for me. Is it really that good? Is that what you use?

Ned S. Levi said...

Hi Frank.

Yes, DEET isn't particularly effective on ticks, but's great on other insects such as mosquitoes.

Permethrin is very effective for ticks, but you've got to treat your clothes with it. You can't put it directly on you. It keeps the ticks away and/or kills them. I just retreated my clothes for the Wildlife Photowalk I'm leading at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday.

Permethrin lasts about 6 weeks or 6 washings on your clothes, whichever comes first.

By the way, come join Saturday's photowalk if you can. It would be good to see you again. It's been a few months since you've been on one.

Frank - Cherry Hill said...

Thanks Ned. Sorry, but I can't be there on Saturday. My wife and I are spending the weekend in NYC seeing some shows and going to museums. Maybe September. Do you have a Sept. date for Heinz yet.

Ned S. Levi said...

Fred, I hope to have that date set by the end of the week. I have to firm up some other dates first.

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