There’s no mistaking that annoying buzz of a mosquito circling your head, especially for almost anyone who grew up in Mississippi. The only thing worse than that infuriating hum just before they close in for a tasty meal is the stinging realization that dinner has begun and you are the main course. No doubt mosquitoes pose a number of serious health threats, including West Nile virus, Zika, Malaria, Encephalitis, Chikungunya, and that’s just a few of the diseases that be contracted from mosquitoes in Mississippi. But that’s a story for another day.
Getting ticked! Because mosquitoes are so prevalent in our state, it’s sometimes easy to forget that ticks are no strangers to our part of the country either, and they pose their own set of pervasive health risks. The most common species of tick found in Mississippi is the lone star tick or deer tick, and it is found in all 82 counties. Ticks tend to be most active from late summer to fall, although they are around beginning in the early spring. So, no outdoor activity is immune to these creepy, crawly critters that don’t just bite, but literally latch on and don’t let go, even after a hearty meal. Any fur-bearing mammal, including the human kind, is fair game, and anything that walks, hops, crawls or flies can be an unwitting carrier to spread the tick population from dense woodlands to manicured lawns.
The Ticking Clock Deer ticks that feed on white-footed mice infected with Lyme disease ingest the bacterium and may pass it to humans. In most cases, it takes 36 to 48 hours for an infected tick to transmit Lyme disease after it attaches itself to you. Nymphs (also called seed ticks), which are immature ticks that measure less than 2 millimeters (mm) in size, are the primary transmitters of Lyme disease. Because they’re so small, nymphs can go unnoticed in difficult-to-see areas such as the scalp, armpits, and groin. Adult ticks can also transmit the disease, but because they’re bigger, many are noticed and removed before they can transmit the infection.
Precision Extraction It is crucial to remove a tick as soon as possible before they have the chance to transmit the Lyme disease bacterium. To remove a tick properly use tweezers to grip the tick firmly, close to the skin and pull it straight out. If you must use your fingers, protect your fingertips with a plastic bag or a tissue and wash your hands afterward. Put antiseptic on the bite. Drown the tick in alcohol.
Eye on the Target The most common symptom of Lyme disease is a rash that looks like a bull’s eye (picture the Target logo). In 70 to 80 percent of infected people, the bull’s-eye rash will appear 3 to 30 days after one is infected. According to the CDC the average time for the rash to show up is a week. As the rash spreads, parts of it might clear up, which is how the bull’s eye becomes evident.
But not all patients notice the rash, and a significant percentage will not develop a textbook case of the rash at all.
Other Lyme disease symptoms can appear from several days to even months after the bite. Some are flu-like: fatigue, headache, joint swelling, and dizziness. Other symptoms can include arthritis, irregular heartbeat, nerve pain, and memory problems.
Testing 1, 2, 3 Lyme disease may be diagnosed with a blood test. Unfortunately, if testing is done in the early stages of infection, most tests will come out negative. It usually takes four to five weeks for antibodies that fight Lyme disease to appear in the bloodstream, which means that anyone tested sooner may not receive an accurate diagnosis.
Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated and cured with antibiotics. It’s best if they’re started within the first two weeks, but of course, that is difficult since tests won’t pick up on Lyme disease that early. Antibiotics your doctor may prescribe include doxycycline and amoxicillin.
The best ways to prevent Lyme disease are to avoid places where deer ticks are found, take preemptive measures when you are out where ticks may abound and promptly remove ticks if you are bitten. If you live in or visit a high-risk area, follow these tips:
Note: Even if you have not been outdoors where you may encounter a tick, your four-footed friends probably have. Be sure to check your pets for ticks and talk to your vet about preventive measures to protect them as well.