Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
It’s not necessarily the sound of a time bomb, but it just might be.
With summer arriving this month, and more and more people spending time outdoors fishing, camping and, in the fall, hunting, the chances of having an encounter with a tick are at their highest.
And nothing about those encounters can be good.
The incidence of tick-borne diseases is on the rise, and several new ones have shown up in the past decade. Experts in the fields of climatology and infectious diseases point to the world-wide warming trend as a kick-starter in the proliferation of ticks across North America.
Strat Donnell of Hampstead, N.C., ran into a bad tick — more than likely a lone star tick — several years ago. A veteran turkey hunter and on-and-off turkey hunting guide, Donnell got sick in 2012. He was suddenly stricken by digestive problems, and after several procedures and tests it was determined that he had a condition called achalasia, where the two-way valve between the esophagus and stomach ceases to function properly.
After losing 40 pounds over a year, he was diagnosed with an allergy to meat, and doctors put two and two together upon reading a study from two professors at the University of Virginia connecting meat allergies to the bites of the lone star tick — a tiny blood-sucker that has also been identified as the transmitter of the heartland virus, a disease that has surfaced from Tennessee across the Midwest.
After another surgical procedure, Donnell can eat anything except beef without any repercussions.
“Do not be timid on getting a blood test if you have had or have any such symptoms,” Donnell said. “And just because you have no symptoms today does not mean you can’t earn a trip to the kitchen sink after the next tick finishes snacking on you.”
Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease are by far the most-prevalent tick-borne diseases. And more people are at risk of being infected with that debilitating ailment in today’s warmer environment, according to Dr. Doug Inkley, writing in a National Wildlife Federation report.
“Most of the ticks that bite and infect humans with (Lyme) disease are nymphs, which are most active in the summer months when people and pets are also most active,” Inkley wrote. “With climate change, these ticks are projected to be more widespread than ever before.”
An NWF report titled “Nowhere to run; big-game wildlife in a warming world” predicted climate change would expand the distribution of the deer ticks that carry Lyme disease by 70 percent, particularly in northern climes.
Fortunately, tick-borne diseases and encounters with ticks can be prevented. In most cases, a tick must have latched onto your skin for at least 24 hours to transmit disease, so a quick daily check while showering or bathing can solve that problem.
Even better is the use of insect repellents. The Center for Disease Control recommends using repellents that contain at least 20 to 30 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing, or to treat clothing with products that contain permethrin.
Specifically, make sure boots, shoes, socks and pants are treated, as ticks have to make contact at ground level before travelling to the spots where they intend to grab hold.
And make sure your pet’s tick and flea prevention is up to date.
If you discover a tick has latched onto you and you don’t know how long it’s been there — they do show up in hard-to-see places — see your family doctor immediately. A preventive treatment with an antibiotic like doxycycline should take care of any potential problems.