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Don’t let ticks ruin your summer

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- As warmer weather approaches, people spend more time outdoors. From neighborhood barbecues to hiking and camping, people are making the most of the warmer weather. However, Missouri has a plethora of insects that will also enjoy people being outside, especially the tick!

Ticks are tiny insects that are closely related to mites and feed off of human or animal blood. Because they cannot run or fly, they will climb to the top of grass stems or bushes to grab on to a host that walks by. It is important to remain vigilant about ticks because they can carry diseases.

Missouri has several species of ticks, but two of the most common are the Lone Star Tick and the American Dog Tick. Some of the diseases that are in our local area are Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is passed by the American Dog Tick. The symptoms of this disease include: fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, and muscle pain. Some patients may experience a rash, but it is often absent in the first few days. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be serious and fatal if not treated properly. If left untreated, some patients may experience damage to the blood vessels and bleeding in the brain and/or other vital organs. Patients may need prolonged hospitalization, intravenous antibiotics, or intensive care.

Lyme disease is also caused by ticks, typically the Black-Legged Tick and the Lone Star Tick. Patients diagnosed with Lyme disease often experience fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. Approximately 80 percent of the patients will also experience the “bull’s eye” rash associated with the disease. If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause severe headaches, neck stiffness, arthritis, facial palsy, and inflammation of the brain. Fortunately, the tick must be attached to you for over 24 hours to be able to transmit the disease.

Tick-borne diseases can be prevented! Ticks are most active during the warmer months (April-September). It is important to use insect repellant when going outdoors, especially when tracking through woodsy areas or where tall grass meets short grass (such as trails or near fields). Use repellant that contains 20 percent or more of DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin, which is also safe for pregnant women and children over two months of age. Bathe or shower within two hours after coming indoors. It allows you to find ticks that may not be attached to your skin yet. Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror. Parents should also check their children.

If a tick is found, it is important to remove the tick correctly. Avoid old-wives tales and folklore remedies such as “painting” a tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly. The most effective way to remove a tick is to use fine-tipped tweezers:

1. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist the tick, it can break the mouth-parts inside the bite. If the mouth-parts are left in, leave it alone and let the skin heal on its own.
3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
4. Dispose of the live tick by submerging it in alcohol.
5. If you are able to get the tick with all mouth parts still attached, please put it in a sealed zip-lock bag and bring it to Public Health.

It is important to remember that tick-borne diseases will not show up in lab work immediately after a tick bite. Your provider cannot treat you if you are not showing symptoms. Please monitor yourself after a tick bite and see your provider immediately if you begin experiencing symptoms.

Don’t let ticks ruin your summer. When insect repellant is used correctly, you can enjoy the outdoors without worrying! If you would like more information about tick-borne or mosquito-borne diseases, feel free to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at Also, please contact Public Health at 660-687-2179 for any questions.