Ticks are common in all areas of NC although they are less prevalent in the NC mountains compared to the piedmont and costal areas. The more time you spend outdoors the more likely you are to get a tick bite. NC has tick species active and capable of biting year round with April thru August/September as the most likely times to be bit by a tick in NC.
Ticks in NC can transmit not only Lyme but Ehrlichiosis, Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness, Rocky Mounted Spotted Fever, and other Spotted Fever Rickettsial diseases. These can be treated with antibiotics and are best caught early, otherwise they can lead to serious health problems, and even be fatal in rare cases. Ticks can also carry Babesiosis – a parasite type infection that requires different treatment than other tick bites.
Prevention is always the best medicine and you can take relatively easy steps to lessen your chances of a tick bite. The greatest risk of tick attachment (in order of highest risk first): sitting on logs, gathering wood, sitting against a tree and sitting in leaf litter. The damper the leaves, the more likely they are to harbor ticks in all their life stages. Lying out in a clearing at night won’t assure you of a tick-free space as ticks retreat down to the ground at night. .
If you are going to sit down outdoors best to sit on a rock versus a log or in leaf litter. Get in the habit of throwing down a nylon parka or poncho (preferably treated with permethrin) before you sit in the woods. Keep in mind that ticks start low and crawl up. Wearing light colored socks and pants with the pants tucked into the socks helps to keep the ticks on the outside where you might see them. .
Clothing impregnated with permethrin is one of your best protections. Permethrin is a synthetic molecule similar to those found in natural pyrethrum, which is taken from the chrysanthemum flower. Not only does this product repel insects, but will actually kill ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, mites and more than 55 other kinds of insects. You can buy the permethrin and spray your own clothes or buy clothes impregnated in the manufacturing process. The latter choice is longer lasting. Repellants, whether DEET or others, only repels ticks where it is applied and they don’t last long. Still, they are better than nothing.
It takes several hours of attachment – likely 12 to 24 hours – for the tick to transmit the pathogen. While outdoors and when you get home get in the habit of doing a thorough scan for ticks, understanding that some ticks can be the size of a poppy seed. Ticks do not wash off in the shower. After your time outside throw all your clothes in a hot dryer for 10-15 minutes – dry heat will kill them better than washing.
The easiest and safest way to remove an embedded tick is to grasp the head as close to the skin as possible and pull straight out. Use alcohol on the tweezers and bite area.
You might want to have the tick tested, especially if it’s a black legged tick which are known to carry Lyme. Put the tick in a zip locked plastic bag. Testing the tick can be useful in deciding whether to treat in the absence of symptoms. If the tick comes back positive for a pathogen it doesn’t mean it was transmitted to you, however if you start coming down with symptoms you’ll have an idea of what it might be. Keep in mind that most ticks do not feed long enough to transmit disease and that most ticks don’t carry illness. However, seek prompt medical attention if you come down with flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, muscle aches and joint pain, and/or rash.
Lastly, if you have indoor-outdoor pets talk to your vet about tick prevention for them so that your pet’s ticks don’t get onto you.
June 2013. By Anne Walch, MHS, PA-C, a Duke trained physician assistant with greater than 25 years experience working at Healing Path Integrative Medicine, www.hpimed.com.
June 23, 2013