(WGHP) — Now that the weather is warming up, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that tick bites will begin to spike and peak in May and June.
But don’t worry.
Dr. Sarah Park, an infectious disease expert who works as the medical director with Karius, spoke with FOX8 and discussed a variety of ways you can keep yourself and your pets safe from these pesky bloodsuckers, starting with knowing what types of ticks live in North Carolina.
The four types of ticks to be aware of in NC are:
- Black-legged tick (also known as deer tick)
- The lone star tick
- The American dog tick
- The Brown dog tick
While the threat of Lyme disease is only found in black-legged ticks, which prefer spring and fall temperatures to summer, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other tick-borne diseases to be aware of.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is harmful to people and domestic dogs. It can be treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, it can sometimes cause death.
The symptoms include:
- muscle pain
- possible rash
A tick must be attached for at least six hours to transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and at least 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease, so checking yourself after any time spent in an environment that could have ticks is very important.
“They’re latched on to you for a few days,” Park said. “They latch on for a few days because they’re doing their full blood meal. And that’s why by the end of their blood meal, they do become visible, because now they’re ballooned … with all the blood that they’ve sucked.”
If a tick is still small when discovered, it’s still early in its feeding cycle.
“If they’re big and ballooned up, don’t panic. … Still remove it. … Just monitor yourself,” Park said. “Most times, you’re fine.”
In addition to Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and STARI (southern tick-associated rash illness), ticks can also spread ehrlichiosis and tularemia, which is also known as “rabbit fever.”
“The tricky thing about all of these diseases is they tend to start off very similarly in that they have non-specific signs and symptoms,” Park said.
Park says that not everyone gets the spots associated with Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and the circular skin legion associated with Lyme disease can sometimes appear on a part of your body you don’t see regularly.
“Similarly, with the other tick diseases, some of them can produce rash. … Some people don’t even realize they have a rash because it’s so faint,” Park said. “This is what makes it very difficult, honestly, for clinicians to diagnose these diseases.”
If you notice any of the above symptoms after spending time in an area where ticks live or know you have been bitten by a tick, tell your doctor so they can pinpoint the cause of your symptoms.
Try to stay out of overgrown, weeded areas. If you can, layer your clothing and tuck your pants into your socks. Wearing light-colored clothing can make ticks easier to see before they get on to your skin.
“What people don’t realize is that … when the ticks hatch, they are hungry. They’re like vampires,” Park said. “They are these little, tiny, tiny nymphs that are really … hard to see, and they are starving for blood.”
Newly-hatched ticks tend to attach themselves to animals since animals are easier to come by than humans.
“It’s ingrained in them to position themselves in such a way on a blade of grass … where it’s likely that an animal or something will brush up against them, and then they latch on,” Park said.
If you’ve been in a grassy and wooded area, it’s always a good idea to check for ticks in the first few hours after you get back and take a shower to possibly wash off any potential ticks.
Insect repellents are effective as well and should be applied liberally.
Trying to avoid tick-infested areas while picking a campsite? Use a piece of white fabric and brush it across the ground. If you get ticks on the fabric, pick a new place.
If you get a tick on you, follow these steps to remove it:
- Use tweezers to grab the tick as close to the surface of your skin as possible.
- Pull up with steady pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick since that can cause the mouth parts to break off and stay in your skin. If this happens, remove the mouth parts with tweezers. If you can’t remove the mouth with tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After the tick has been removed, clean the bitten area with alcohol or wash it with soap and water.
- Never crush a tick, smother one with petroleum jelly or use a flame to try and get it to let go of you. Instead, flush it down the toilet, put it in a sealed bag, wrap it tightly in tape or put it in alcohol.
Keeping your pets safe
It’s also good to frequently check your pets for ticks, especially if they’ve been outside because they can get a variety of diseases such as:
- Lyme disease
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- canine ehrlichiosis
The CDC recommends talking to your veterinarian about the best tick prevention products for your dogs and making sure you know what kinds of ticks live in your area.
Ticks like to latch on to long-haired dogs, especially.
Reducing the tick habitat in your yard is another great way to keep your pets safe from the bloodsuckers.
Keeping ticks out of your yard
Keep your yard mowed and free of leaf litter to avoid creating a prime environment for ticks.
For large-scale infestations, pesticides can be used to cut down on the tick population. Be mindful of your use of pesticides and follow the instructions exactly.
Don’t let bitey little bugs ruin your summer. With the right preparations, ticks won’t be a problem for you or your family.