Reported cases of tick-borne illnesses are up throughout the state of Missouri. In June, a Meramec State Park Assistant Superintendent died from complications of Bourbon virus, a rare disease thought to be carried by ticks. After her death, health officials had thousands of ticks from the park shipped to the CDC in Atlanta for analysis. The results of these tests are still pending.
However, at least six different human tick-borne diseases have been reported in Missouri in recent years: Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia, Q-fever, Lyme or a lyme-like disease and the southern tick-associated rash illness.
Tick-borne diseases are a type of emerging disease, many of them first recognized in the last 30 years. Human case numbers per year for tick-borne diseases are generally on the rise. This upward trend is due to better recognition and disease reporting, but is also a reflection of changes in the environment that fosters increased exposure and transmission to humans. Fortunately, not all ticks are infected, so a tick bite does not necessarily mean you will get a disease. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) wants people to know that taking proper precautions can greatly reduce their chance of being bitten.
Tick-borne Disease Prevention
- When hiking in wooded areas, walk in the center of trails to avoid brushing against overhanging brush and tall grass.
- A “questing” (the way it seeks a host) tick will perch itself, front legs extended, on the stems of grass, low brush or on the edges of leaves on the ground. The tick waits until a suitable host brushes against the vegetation. Ticks do not jump, fall or fly and are generally found within three feet of the ground.
- Use insect repellent that contains DEET on your skin.
- Another repellant called permethrin, used on clothing, kills ticks (as well as mosquitoes and chiggers). Permethrin products are designed to bind with fabric and persist through launderings.
- Once on a host, the tick seeks a place to attach and take a blood meal. Ticks can attach anywhere, but are most frequently found around the head, neck, underarms, and groin.
- Light-colored clothing helps you spot ticks more easily.
- Tucking pant legs into your socks helps slow them down in their quest for your skin.
- Check frequently and carefully for ticks.
- Remove attached ticks immediately using the proper technique, as the longer it is attached the greater the risk of infection.
- Reduce the chance of disease transmission by removing ticks with tweezers or commercial tick removal tools.
- Position the tips of tweezers around the area where the tick’s mouthparts enter the skin. Use a slow, steady motion when pulling the tick away from the skin.
- After removal, disinfect the skin with soap and water, or available disinfectants.
Signs and Symptoms of Tick-borne Disease
The signs and symptoms of tick-borne disease can vary by individual and are often mistaken for influenza. A person should see a doctor if they experience:
- sudden high fever
- severe headache
- muscle or joint aches
- nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- infected bite site
- spreading rash
An ill person should report any tick bites, removals or exposure to a tick habitat immediately to their healthcare provider.
Reporting Tick-borne Disease
Most tick-borne diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia, Q- fever and Lyme or a lyme-like disease are reportable in Missouri. Reporting helps DHSS monitor disease trends, track unusual occurrences or clusters of diseases and identify possible risk factors associated with diseases.