North Texans aren’t the only ones who enjoyed last winter’s mild temperatures. In the critter world, those icky blood-sucking ticks that usually go dormant had extra months to reproduce, resulting in a sharp increase in the tick population nationwide.
The Centers for Disease Control is predicting 2017 will be the worst year ever for reported tick-borne diseases. The CDC’s webpage on ticks has the most comprehensive, current information to keep you safe.
What you should know about ticks and tick-borne diseases.
There are four species of ticks common to North Texas and they can carry a surprisingly wide variety of bugs, including bacterial and parasitic diseases and viruses.
- American dog tick: Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia
- Blacklegged (deer) tick: Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Powassan disease
- Brown dog tick: Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Lone Star tick: ehrlichiosis, tularemia, STARI (southern tick-associated rash illness)
The chart below shows just how serious tick-borne diseases can be. Mild symptoms may be treatable at home with antibiotics, while severe infections can require hospitalization. Some tick-borne illnesses can leave you with long-term debilitating health effects and some can be fatal if untreated.
Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are reported most often in Texas, along with other more rare tick-borne diseases.
Be aware that it can take days to weeks for symptoms of a tick-borne illness to appear. At the first sign, get medical help immediately and be sure to tell the doctor when and in what area of the country you were in when you got the bite.
If you removed the tick yourself, you may want to save it for identification and lab testing in case symptoms occur. To do this, place the tick in a plastic storage bag and freeze it. If this isn’t possible and the tick is still alive when it’s removed, kill it by soaking it in rubbing alcohol and flushing it down the toilet to prevent it from biting anyone else.
Signs and symptoms of tick-borne diseases.
How to remove ticks.
Stay away from folk remedies such as nail polish, petroleum jelly or heat, which can actually cause ticks to release more saliva or burrow deeper into the skin. Instead, remove ticks as soon as possible following these steps:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers, or specialized tick removal tools if you have them, to grasp the tick as close to its mouth or your skin as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure
- Avoid twisting or jerking the tick, which can cause mouthparts to break off under the skin
- If mouthparts do remain under the skin, remove them if possible with clean tweezers or leave them alone and let the skin heal
- Once the tick is removed, use an iodine scrub, rubbing alcohol or soap and water to thoroughly clean the bitten area, your hands and tweezers or tools used
- If you cannot successfully remove the tick or it has burrowed too deep, have it removed by a doctor
How to prevent tick bites.
- Use repellent products that last several hours containing:
- On exposed skin – 20% or more DEET, picaridin or IR3535
- On clothing and gear – 0.5% permethrin
- Use vet recommended products to treat dogs and cats
- Check for ticks daily:
- Under the arms
- In and around the ears
- Inside the belly button
- Behind the knees
- Between the legs
- Around the waist
- On the hairline and scalp
- Shower soon after being outdoors
- Treat home landscaping for a “tick-safe” environment
If you walk your dog, bicycle, run, hike or camp in or near tall grass or woods — in Texas or on your travels anywhere in the U.S. this summer — take every precaution to prevent tick bites and to quickly remove ticks and treat bitten areas. Remember to protect yourself from stinging insects, too, as Texas is home to all five species that cause allergic reactions.
When to go to the ER for an insect bite or sting.
Bryan Thibodeau, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Medical City Dallas, tells you how to identify the signs that medical treatment for insect bites or stings is needed.
If someone in your family shows symptoms of a tick-borne disease or any allergic reaction to insect bites or stings, one of our many Medical City ER locations across North Texas has you covered. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.