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Prevent tick-borne illness this spring

Friday, April 15, 2011
CONTACT: Dr. Lon Kightlinger, South Dakota Department of Health, (605) 773-3737                    
                     Dr. Michael Hildreth, South Dakota State University, (605) 668-4562
Prevent tick-borne illness this spring
PIERRE, S.D.South Dakotans spending time outdoors this spring should be aware of ticks and the diseases they can carry, says a state health official.
In 2010 South Dakota reported one case of Lyme disease, 11 cases of tularemia, and zero cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Tularemia, or rabbit fever, can also be spread by infected rabbit carcasses.
"Lyme disease is carried primarily by the deer tick which needs heavily forested areas to thrive so South Dakota’s prairies actually provide a deterrent,” said Dr. Lon Kightlinger, State Epidemiologist for the Department of Health. “Rocky Mountain spotted fever is carried by the American dog tick, the most common species in South Dakota.”
This year for the first time, the department is collaborating with SDSU on a tick surveillance project under the direction of Dr. Michael Hildreth, who is a professor in the departments of Biology and Microbiology and also Veterinary and Biomedical Science. The project will focus on collecting and identifying ticks in several woodland areas in the eastern part of the state that are possible deer tick habitats.
“Because wooded areas of Minnesota have high levels of the deer tick and Lyme disease, it’s important we monitor any changes in the tick population in South Dakota counties,” said Dr. Hildreth.
The Department of Health investigates all reported cases of tick-borne disease in the state. Those investigations indicate the majority of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia cases are acquired in South Dakota while most Lyme disease cases are acquired out-of-state.
Tick-borne illness symptoms 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. If you find a tick attached, be careful not to crush it. Instead, use tweezers or a facial tissue and pull slowly and steadily to remove the tick. Once removed, immediately apply antiseptic to the site to prevent infection. If you used bare hands to remove the tick, wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap, being especially careful not to touch your eyes before washing your hands.
Take the following steps to prevent tick exposure:
  • Repel ticks by tucking your pants into your socks when outdoors. Spray clothes and any exposed skin with a tick repellent.
  • Check frequently for ticks when outdoors, 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.
  • Check with 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.
  • When visiting Lyme disease infested areas (northeastern Minnesota, Wisconsin, north-Atlantic coast states) take special precautions to avoid ticks.
Fact sheets on specific tick-borne diseases can be found on the Department of Health web site at http://doh.sd.gov/DiseaseFacts/.