Entomologists at the U.S. Army Public Health Command Region-Europe are reporting an early season for ticks this year.
Though the risk of being bitten by a tick during normal outdoor activities on military installations is low, the risk of encountering a tick increases as people and pets get further off paved trails and mowed parks into tall grass and brushy vegetation.
Lyme disease (known as Lyme borreliosis in Europe) is the most frequent tick-borne disease in Europe.
A person with Lyme disease may develop fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash called erythema migrans. This rash is sometimes referred to as a “bull’s-eye” rash because of its red circular appearance. As it continues to grow (up to nearly 12 inches in diameter), it will often lose the redness in the center of the rash.
If left untreated, it can worsen and cause swelling of the brain, facial paralysis, and pain and numbness in the hands, feet or other areas of the body.
In most cases, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics.
No vaccine against Lyme disease is currently available, so tick awareness, appropriate clothing in tick-infested areas, and early removal of attached ticks remain the most important prevention measures.
In areas where ticks are prevalent, these precautions are advised:
Avoid waist-high vegetation and wild game trails located in and near forested areas.
Wear light-colored clothing. This makes it easier to see crawling ticks.
Wear long pants and tuck them into boots or socks. Shirts should be tucked into pants at the waist. This will help ensure the tick is visible before it gets under clothing.
Wear clothing that is treated with insect repellents. Many outdoor companies now sell outdoor clothing pre-treated with permethrin to repel ticks and other biting arthropods. For all other outdoor clothing, spray with an insect repellent containing DEET. These sprays are sold at most convenience stores.
Apply insect repellents containing DEET to exposed skin as directed by the product label.
Check yourself and your children carefully for ticks after outdoor activities. Pay close attention to warm, moist areas of the body and to your head.
Avoid using tick-and-flea collars meant for animals on people; the chemicals in these products can cause skin and internal organ damage to humans.
To properly remove an embedded tick, use fine-tipped tweezers to firmly grasp the tick’s head as close to the skin as possible, and pull up in a smooth, steady motion.
Avoid jerking, twisting, or pinching off the head, as this may break off the tick mouth parts and cause secondary infections. After removing the tick, clean the area with soap and water, and apply an antiseptic. Always wash your hands after handling ticks.
Avoid home remedies, such as hot matches, fire, fingernail polish or other extreme methods to remove ticks. These techniques may cause the attached tick to regurgitate into the host.
After removing ticks, stay alert for signs of tick-borne diseases. If a tick bite is followed by flu-like symptoms and/or a skin rash, promptly see your primary care provider for evaluation.
Editor’s Note: USAPHCR– Europe’s Col. Eric Shuping and Lt. Col. Greg Saturday contributed to this article.
To find out more about ticks and tick-borne diseases, visit the U.S. Army Public Health Command website at http://phc.amedd.army.mil.