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Tick-Borne Illness: Avoid the Bite to Protect Your Health

We all know the importance of identifying changing moles as a warning sign for cancer. This time of year, inevitably, someone will come into the clinic with a “changing mole” or a “blood blister’ that is actually an engorged tick.

From the Ohio Department of Health website:

“Diseases spread by ticks are an increasing concern in Ohio and are being reported to the Ohio Department of Health more frequently in the past decade, with Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) being the most common. Other tickborne diseases such as anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and ehrlichiosis are also on the rise. Though rare, diseases such as tularemia, southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), and Powassan virus may also be carried by Ohio ticks.”

Two Ticks to Watch For in Ohio:

  1. The black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), which is the tick responsible for spreading Lyme Disease, can now be found in at least 60 counties in our state, mostly in the eastern, southern, and central parts. Also called a “deer tick,” this is a small, black-bodied tick that primarily lives off of the white tailed deer. It lives on the forest floor and can hang from vegetation to attach itself to prey.

  2. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is also spread by ticks. In this case, the culprit is the American dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis. These are the type of tick most commonly encountered in Ohio, and they can be found in all parts of the state. Cats and dogs are prone to picking up the dog tick in areas of tall grass or clearings, especially in the warmer months.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Lyme Disease typically presents as a red, expanding, ring-like rash occurring 7-15 days after tick detachment that has a “bulls eye” appearance. It is important that this stage of disease be recognized and treated appropriately because if left untreated, the infection can spread internally causing organ system and nervous system damage.

RMSF presents as a fever and headache, with a rash that usually develops 2-4 days after the fever begins. The look of the rash isn’t as typical as that of Lyme Disease, and can be splotchy or look like dots. While most patients develop this rash, not all do, so it can be tricky to diagnose RMSF, but it’s important to catch it as early as possible. This illness is acute and can result in long-term damage, though it does not result in a chronic infection as Lyme can.

How to Prevent Tick-Borne Illness

The most important way to avoid tick-borne disease is to avoid getting bitten by ticks in the first place. Apply an insect repellent with DEET before any exposure to normal tick habitats. If you do identify a tick attached to your skin, the proper way to remove it is with tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the base of the skin as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick and avoid “folklore” remedies such as nail polish, petroleum jelly, or burning the tick off. Call your dermatologist or primary care doctor immediately if you develop a rash at the site of the tick bite or a fever within days of the bite.