Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A tick in Time

This article was published in the Fairfield Glade Sun weekly newspaper on June 28, 2009.

Enjoying Nature

by Don Hazel

OK, I have written about ticks before; about how to avoid them, what diseases they can transmit, etc. But this time it is a little more meaningful to me and hopefully it will be to you too.

As I am writing this I am recovering from Ehrlichiosis, a tick transmitted disease that is not fun to catch. Hopefully in a few more days I will be back to “normal” (although there are some friends who think that may be asking too much). And, hopefully, by reading this you will be a little more careful when playing in tick territory.

It started on Tuesday, June 2. I went up to Black Mountain near Crab Orchard to scout out a location for a hiking group picnic. On Wednesday evening June 3, I noticed a tiny (size of a pinhead) tick nymph attached to my left hip. I am boring you with the dates because the time frame is critical. You see, unless a tick is attached to you for at least 24 hours you odds of getting anything bad are very very low. This one had a good 36 hours to have his fun with me. That still didn’t mean I would get anything bad, just that my odds went from near zero to something greater.

Well, 9 days later (the incubation period for Ehrlichiosis is 5-10 days) my legs had a slight dull ache all day and my knees ached also, but not too bad. The next day everything hurt just a little more. The following day I was hurting bad enough to go to the Emergency Room at 4 am. Doctor McKinney in the Emergency Room knew his stuff. He knew about the 24 hours to be attached, knew that Ehrlichiosis in this part of the country is transmitted by the Lone Star Tick, and knew that Ehrlichiosis doesn’t usually cause a rash in adults. Some doctors are not nearly as informed about ticks. The symptoms plus the tick bite plus the timing are enough to start antibiotics immediately.

I am telling you all this so you can avoid the same fun that I had. Even though I started the medicine right away, it takes several days to feel better. I had a few pretty miserable days. And I am not the only one…I know several other friends and neighbors who have gone through the same thing and the Doctor said he saw 4 other cases in the past few days. Ehrlichiosis isn’t the only tick disease around here; we have something called STARI and more Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever than the Rocky Mountains, but thank goodness Lyme disease is extremely rare in Tennessee.

Here’s your 3 step plan to avoid a bad encounter with a tick.

  • Avoid brushing against vegetation when in the fields and forests if you can…especially knee high grasses and low shrubs. Ticks are usually down low where they can catch a ride on any number of hosts like a raccoon, rabbit, fox, or mouse, as well as a deer or a human. Your mowed lawn is probably pretty safe because a tick isn’t going to have much luck grabbing a meal from a 3 inch piece of grass.
  • Use DEET, Permethrin, or Lemon Eucalyptus, and carefully read directions. Avon Skin so Soft won’t stop a tick.
  • And number 1….Do a tick check after venturing into tick habitat. Look carefully, tick nymphs are only the size of a pinhead and they can have all of the bad stuff as their bigger brothers and sisters. If you find any ticks within 24 hours you are pretty safe. Use tweezers to remove them safely…the only recommended way.

The good news is that I might have some immunity to Ehrlichiosis going forward. But trust me; it is far better to catch the tick in time.

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