”Tis the season for ticks and the diseases they carry, especially Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a serious illness occurring from April through September.
Although the illness currently is not common in Mississippi, officials are reminding residents to practice preventative measures and check themselves for ticks after participating in various outdoor summer activities.
“There”s a lot of ticks in the state,” said Dr. Jerome Goddard, a medical and veterinary entomologist at Mississippi State University. “There are probably about 15 species, but only about three or four species are significant pests.”
Goddard noted only one species in Mississippi — the American Dog Tick — carries Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and only about 1 or 2 percent of those ticks carry the bacterial organism — Rickettsia rickettsii — causing the illness.
Even so, throughout Goddard”s career, he has “investigated cases where people died” of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and stressed checking for ticks always is important.
“(Ticks) live in the grass and weeds and get on animals and they can get on people too,” he explained. “People can also get them by handling pets, especially ones that run free. There”s a whole host of tick control products for pets, flea and tick collars and spot-on or pour-on products. There are a lot of protective products for the animals.
“As far as a person, check yourself for ticks if you”ve been out hiking or fishing and pull them off if you find them,” he continued. “Research has shown it takes six to 24 hours for the (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever) germ to be transmitted. You can only get it from a tick bite, not from person to person. It”s serious business. The main thing people need to know is ticks are not just a nuisance; there are diseases they can transmit. Pull them off.”
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend using fine-tipped tweezers to remove attached ticks, noting ticks should not be removed with bare hands and gloves or other protective coverings should be worn.
The CDC recommends grasping the ticks “as close to the skin surface as possible and” pulling “upward with steady, even pressure” without twisting or jerking the tick, which can cause “mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin.”
After removal, disinfect the site of the bite, officials said, adding the body of a tick should not be squeezed, crushed or punctured, because the tick”s fluids may contain infectious organisms.
For protection in tick-infested areas, CDC officials recommend wearing light-colored clothing allowing easy visibility of ticks crawling on clothing, using repellents to discourage tick attachment and conducting a full-body check for ticks after returning from potentially tick-infested areas.
Initial symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever include fever, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, lack of appetite and severe headache.
Later symptoms include rash, abdominal pain, joint pain and diarrhea.
“It usually has an acute onset of fever, headache, muscle ache, nausea and vomiting over a couple of weeks,” said Dr. Paul Byers, the acting state epidemiologist. “One of the things that is a hallmark of this disease is (those infected) start to get a rash. It can include their palms and soles of their feet, but it can spread over the body. They are small red, dots often confused with other illnesses.
“(Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever) has to be recognized relatively early so treatment can get started right away,” he continued. “In most cases, if there”s early recognition and appropriate treatment has started, it isn”t a fatal disease. Most of the fatalities occur when there is delayed recognition of the illness.”
Goddard stressed anyone bitten by a tick who becomes sick should help doctors identify the source of their illness.
“Go to the doctor and say, I had a tick bite,” he said. “That”s the main thing. You”ve got to point the physicians to the fact you might have a tick disease. There is treatment for it, if it”s recognized.”
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is treated with a tetracycline antibiotic.
The Mississippi State Department of Health reported nine cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in 2009 — in Tishomingo, Lee, Leflore, Winston, Hinds, Neshoba, Harrison and Jackson counties — and two cases this year — in Alcorn and Warren counties.
Physicians are required to report cases of the illness to the state health department.
Other diseases carried by ticks include Lyme disease, Babesiosis, Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness and tick-borne relapsing fever.
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