SPRINGFIELD – Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director, is warning residents to take precautions against ticks and the diseases they carry after an increased number of reports from the public to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).
“Ticks can transmit a number of diseases through a bite,” warns Dr. Whitaker. “As people start spending more time outdoors during the spring and summer, they need to make sure they are taking precautions to protect themselves against insect bites from ticks, mosquitoes, buffalo gnats and other biting insects.”
Ticks live in and near wooded areas, tall grass and brush and, if infected, can spread various diseases, including ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. The ticks, often no bigger than a pin head, become active and can spread disease any time of the year when the temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or more at ground level. Ticks, which have sticky pads on their feet, wait in ankle-high grass and other low vegetation for a human, a dog or another animal to pass by. Peak months for tickborne diseases are June and July.
The best way to protect yourself against tickborne illnesses is to avoid tick bites by taking the following precautions:
• Check your clothing often for ticks climbing toward open skin. Wear white or light-colored long-sleeved shirts and long pants so the tiny ticks are easier to see.
• Tuck long pants into your socks and boots. Wear a head covering or hat for added protection.
• Apply insect repellent containing DEET (30 percent or less) to exposed skin (except the face). Be sure to wash treated skin after coming indoors. If you do cover up, use repellents for clothing containing permethrin to treat clothes (especially pants, socks and shoes) while in locations where ticks may be common. Follow label directions; do not misuse or overuse repellents.
• Always supervise children in the use of repellents.
• Walk in the center of trails so weeds do not brush against you.
• “Tick Checks” are an important method of preventing tickborne diseases. In areas where ticks may be present, be sure and check yourself, children and other family members every two to three hours for ticks. Most ticks seldom attach quickly and rarely transmit tickborne disease until they have been attached for four or more hours.
• If you let your pets outdoors, check them often for ticks. Infected ticks also can transmit disease to them. (Check with your veterinarian about preventive measures against tickborne diseases.) You are at risk from ticks that "hitch a ride" on your pets but fall off in your home before they feed.
• Remove any tick promptly. Do not try to burn the tick with a match or cover it with petroleum jelly or nail polish. Do not use bare hands. The best way to remove a tick is to grasp it with fine-point tweezers as close to the skin as possible and gently, but firmly, pull it straight out. Do not twist or jerk the tick. If tweezers are not available, grasp the tick with a piece of cloth or whatever can be used as a barrier between your fingers and the tick. You may want to put the tick in a jar of rubbing alcohol labeled with the date and location of the bite in case you seek medical attention and your physician wishes to have the tick identified.
• Wash the bite area and your hands thoroughly with soap and water, and apply an antiseptic to the bite site.
• Keep your grass mowed and keep weeds cut around your home.
• Know the symptoms of tickborne disease and consult with your physician if you have a rash or unexplained fever with flu-like illness (without a cough) during the month following a tick bite - these can be symptoms of a tickborne disease.
More information about ticks, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis and tularemia is available on the Department’s Web site, http://www.idph.state.il.us/public/hbhome.htm