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Take steps to prevent tick-borne illness

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Dr. Lon Kightlinger, Department of Health (605) 773-3737  
Dr. Michael Hildreth, South Dakota State University, (605) 668-4562


Take steps to prevent tick-borne illness


PIERRE, S.D. – South Dakotans heading outdoors need to protect themselves from ticks and the diseases they can carry, says a state health official.


“Each year we have South Dakotans infected with tularemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease – all tick-borne illnesses,” said Dr. Lon Kightlinger, State Epidemiologist for the Department of Health. “Last year we reported four cases of Lyme disease, eight of tularemia, three of ehrlichiosis, and one Rocky Mountain spotted fever in South Dakota.”  


Kightlinger noted that the department investigates every case of tick-borne disease reported. Those investigations found that all four cases of Lyme disease reported in 2011 had out-of state tick exposure. South Dakota’s prairies actually help to deter Lyme disease somewhat because the deer tick that carries it needs heavily forested areas to thrive.


A 2011 tick surveillance project in eastern South Dakota found none of the Ioxodes black-legged deer ticks that carry Lyme disease. The SDSU-led project surveyed forested areas around Sica Hollow, Oak Lake and Lewis and Clark Recreation Area multiple times over an 88-day period between June and October.


“While we did not find the deer tick that carries Lyme disease, we did find that Dermacentor variabilis, the dog tick, was plentiful in all three locations,” said Dr. Michael Hildreth, a professor in the departments of Biology and Microbiology and also Veterinary and Biomedical Science at SDSU. “The dog tick transmits Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, tularemia and ehrlichiosis.”


Symptoms of tick-borne illness include sudden onset of a moderate-to-high fever, stiff neck, deep muscle pain, arthritis, fatigue, severe headache, chills, a rash on the arms and legs or around the site of the bite, and swollen lymph nodes, particularly in the neck. If you develop any of these symptoms after a tick bite, see your doctor. With Rocky Mountain spotted fever the illness does not start immediately after the tick bite, but typically 5 to 10 days after the tick attachment.


A tick bite is usually painless and appears as a small red bump with a bright red halo. To remove an attached tick, use tweezers or a tissue and pull slowly and steadily, being careful not crush it. Then apply antiseptic to the site to prevent infection. If you use bare hands to remove a tick, wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap, being especially careful not to touch your eyes before washing.


To repel ticks when outdoors tuck your pants into your socks and spray clothes and any exposed skin with a tick repellent. Other precautions include:

  • Check frequently for ticks when outside, especially the scalp and folds of skin. Ticks need to be attached for several hours to spread infection so you can significantly cut your risk by checking for and removing ticks right away.
  • Check small children thoroughly and often for ticks when they've been outside or have had contact with pets or livestock that may have ticks.
  • Ask your veterinarian about appropriate insecticides and collars to protect pets from ticks and limit the number they carry into the home. For added protection, apply insecticides and tick repellents to your pet's bedding.
  • Check your animals frequently for ticks. To remove ticks from animals, apply constant traction with forceps or tweezers. If you must use your fingers, wear disposable gloves and wash hands thoroughly with soap and water afterward.


Fact sheets on specific tick-borne diseases can be found on the Department of Health web site at http://doh.sd.gov/DiseaseFacts/.