Warmer weather means more time outdoors and the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) reminds Iowans to protect themselves against tick bites. Ticks can carry the organisms that cause diseases like Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
The best way to prevent tick bites is to avoid wooded and grassy areas, where ticks are usually found. If you do spend time in these areas:
- Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
- Walk in the center of trails.
- Use repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin or IR3535 on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours.
- Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes and mouth.
- Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents, with products containing 0.5% permethrin. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and may be protective longer.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an online tool to help you select the repellent that is best for you and your family at https://www.epa.gov/insect-repellents/find-insect-repellent-right-you.
If you discover a tick on your body, remove it right away. Folk remedies, such as burning the tick with a match or covering it with petroleum jelly or nail polish, are not effective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following instructions for removing a tick:
- Carefully grasp the tick by using tweezers to grip the tick by its mouthparts, which are close to the skin. Do not squeeze the tick’s body.
- Pull steadily directly away from your skin. Because removing the tick’s body is your main goal, don’t worry if its mouthparts break off in the process.
- Clean the wound and disinfect the site of the bite.
The most common tick-borne disease is Lyme disease. Preliminary 2017 case counts show 254 cases of Lyme disease were reported to IDPH last year, as well as 24 cases of ehrlichiosis/anaplasmosis and 17 cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever – all increases over 2016.
Not everyone who gets Lyme disease will have the same symptoms, but the best and earliest sign of infection is a rash that may appear within a few days to a month, usually at the site of the tick bite. The rash will first look like a small, red bump, then expand until it begins to look like a bull’s eye, with a red center and a red ring surrounding a clear area. It is important to contact your healthcare provider immediately if you develop this type of rash or develop flu-like symptoms within a month of having a tick bite or being in an area where ticks are present.
For more information on Lyme disease, visit http://idph.iowa.gov/cade/disease-information/lyme-disease. To see year by year disease totals, including tick-borne diseases, visit https://www.idph.iowa.gov/CADE and click on “Quarterly Reports.”