March of the Ticks

With tick season approaching, it’s important to understand the risks of tick-born Lyme disease and preventative measures you can take to avoid it. GAI’s Director of Health and Safety, Pamela Walaski, CSP, CHMM tells how we can all be more aware of this growing problem and what we need to do to prevent and treat tick contact.

Blacklegged tick infested areas

Spring is upon us and with the warmer weather, come those pesky ticks infected with Lyme disease. While researchers can’t predict which parts of the country will suffer the most, the Northeast has reported cases of Lyme disease have tripled in the past few decades. And in the past ten years, the disease has spread from Maine to Southern Virginia and into the Midwest from Illinois to Minnesota.

Which Ticks Cause Problems?

Ticks are found throughout North America and all ticks bite humans. While all ticks have the potential to transmit diseases to humans, the deer tick (also known as the blacklegged tick) is the greatest concern because it carries the bacterium that can cause Lyme disease. The majority of human bites are from the deer tick in the nymph and adult female stages of the life cycle, which appear during the spring, summer, and fall months. But the adult ticks may be out searching for a host any time winter temperatures are above freezing.

Are All Tick Bites Created Equal?

Deer ticks do not jump or fly, they adhere to humans only by direct contact—when someone brushes up against vegetation while walking through the woods or fields, when resting on a wall or leaning against something in a garden. If you pay attention in these types of areas, you may find ticks on your clothing or skin and can simply pick the tick off before it embeds itself. Further, even if a tick becomes embedded, adverse health effects are not a certainty. Experts say that it takes at least 24 hours for the embedded tick to transmit bacteria.

The hardest part of preventing Lyme disease is finding the ticks before they can transmit bacteria. Generally, deer ticks are about the size of a sesame seed. And they love to hide in places where it is difficult to find them—scalp, behind the ears, the armpits and groin.

Preventing Tick Bites

The good news is we have two significant opportunities to prevent disease transmission:

  1. Prevent ticks from becoming embedded
  2. Remove embedded ticks before they have the opportunity to transmit disease

 The following are the most effective methods to prevent ticks from becoming embedded:

  • Wear enclosed shoes and light-colored clothing with tightly woven fabric
  • Tuck long pants into socks and tape the tops to reduce the chances of a tick accessing the foot by crawling in the tops of boots or shoes
  • Tuck shirts into pants
  • Keep long hair tied back
  • Stay on cleared, well-traveled trails
  • Avoid sitting directly on the ground or on stone walls
  • Use insect repellant containing DEET (The Centers for Disease Control recommends 20-30% DEET to prevent the spread of pathogens carried by insects)
  • If desired, apply an insecticide containing Permethrin to clothing as directed on the container

Preventing Tick-borne Diseases

Despite these prevention methods, tick bites are still likely to occur. When they do, it’s important to remove the tick before it becomes embedded and before it has the opportunity to transmit disease. When you are in areas where deer ticks are located, scan your clothing or exposed skin approximately every four hours. Perform one final, full-body tick-check at the end of the day. A shower and shampoo may help to remove crawling ticks, but will not remove attached ticks. Inspect yourself carefully after a shower.

Once attached to the human skin, the tick will search for an area to feed and become embedded.  Removing it quickly and safely is a high priority. Tweezers can be used but are more likely to leave parts of the tick still embedded. We recommend using a tick spoon with a notch.

Removing a tick with a tick spoon:

  1. Isolate the tick and make sure it is clearly visible
  2. Place the wide part of the notch on the skin between the embedded head and the tick body
  3. Apply slight pressure downward and slide the spoon forward so the notch frames the tick
  4. Continue to move the spoon forward with a sliding motion until the tick is detached

Once the tick has been removed, make sure to wash the bite area thoroughly with soap and water and apply alcohol to the bite wound to prevent infection. Tick spoons can be reused as long as they are thoroughly cleaned with alcohol. If you can, place the tick in a small plastic bag. Dead or alive, it can sometimes be tested for Lyme disease. Your local health department may have testing services available in your area.

Beyond these immediate measures, your clothing can be spun in the dryer at a high setting for 20 minutes to kill any unseen ticks. (If clothing is treated with Permethrin, check the label for precautions on the temperature setting.)

Should I See a Medical Provider?

If the embedded tick was removed quickly, most experts suggest a visit to the doctor isn’t automatically necessary. It’s a good idea to note the date the tick was removed—on a calendar or in your phone. Monitoring yourself for symptoms over the next three to 30 days is just as effective. Symptoms include flu-like complaints, such as fever, muscle pain, extreme fatigue, headache, chills, joint pain, and swollen glands. Remember that the well-known bulls-eye rash may or may not develop.

By following simple preventive measures and becoming more aware of where, when and how to identify ticks, everyone can continue to enjoy outdoor activities with a lower risk of contracting Lyme disease.

Pam WalaskiPamela Walaski, CSP, CHMM has provided health, safety, and environmental support for 20 years. She is skilled in risk management, occupational safety and health management systems, and training for curriculum development, implementation, and auditing. Pam may be reached by phone at 412.399.5143 or follow her on Twitter at @safetypam.

For related information, check out the following articles and blog posts:

Company Safety Programs—Safety by the Numbers | February 9, 2017

National Preparedness Month and Emergency Preparedness | September 1, 2016

June is National Safety Month | June 21, 2016

The Cost of a Workplace Incident | May 3, 2016

Preparedness at Home: It Could Happen to You | September 29, 2015

Are You A Prepared Employer? Create an Emergency Action Plan for Your Workplace | September 23, 2015

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