WINCHESTER — Summer is almost here, which means area residents will be spending more time outdoors, and that increases the chance of being bitten by a tick.
Lord Fairfax Health District Director Dr. Colin Greene urges people to protect themselves from Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses by using repellents, such as DEET for skin, and permethrin for clothing.
“We are where the ticks live,” Greene said.
He recommends that hikers, campers and those spending time outside wear light-colored pants and shirts with long sleeves, so ticks are easier to spot. He also suggests going with “a buddy” who can help check for ticks on regular intervals.
In 2017, health district data revealed that Lyme disease rates are higher in the Lord Fairfax Health District than anywhere else in Virginia. The district covers Clarke, Frederick, Warren, Shenandoah and Page counties and the City of Winchester. Although there have been no updates since 2017, Greene suspects the health district still has the highest rate of Lyme disease in Virginia.
The Lyme disease bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, is spread through the bite of infected ticks. The blacklegged tick (or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis) spreads the disease in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, ticks can attach to any part of the human body but are often found in hard-to-see areas such as the groin, armpits and scalp.
Greene said ticks are particularly prevalent in forests and places with leaves.
If a person finds a tick attached to their skin, “take a pair of tweezers, grab the tick near the base where it is attached and apply steady, general pressure until it lets go,” Greene said. “Don’t rip it off. Don’t use nail polish or Vaseline or anything. Just steady, general pressure. That should get the tick to let go.”
A tick typically has to be attached at least a day before it can transmit Lyme disease, according to Greene.
Symptoms of Lyme disease include a red, ring-shaped rash around the site of the tick bite within days or weeks of being bitten, as well as fatigue, fever, headache, muscle and joint pains and swollen lymph nodes. If any of these symptoms develop within 30 days of being bitten, see a doctor and tell them about the tick bite.
If early treatment is not sought, multiple rashes may develop. An infected person also may experience intermittent arthritis in their large joints, facial palsy, heart palpitations, severe headaches, neck stiffness and neurological problems.
Pet owners also should frequently check any house pets that spend time outside and use tick repellents designed for that specific type of animal.
Other notable tick diseases include Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) and ehrlichiosis. According to Greene, the variety of tick helps determine which disease is of concern. Larger ticks, such as a dog ticks or lone star ticks, don’t spread Lyme disease, but they can spread the other two diseases.
Last year, an exotic invasive species of tick known as the longhorn tick was identified on horses in Warren County. The species, native to China, Japan and Australia, has not been found in Frederick or Clarke counties, according to Greene. He said the longhorn tick can reproduce asexually.
“That tick is a big unknown,” Greene said. “As of right now it hasn’t been linked with any diseases in the United States. That doesn’t mean it isn’t carrying anything, it just hasn’t been linked with any right now. In Asia it carries a number of diseases.”
For more information on ticks and tick-borne illnesses, contact the health district at 540-722-3480 or visit cdc.gov/ticks/index.html.