Friday, June 18, 2010

The Scourge of Summer: Tick-Borne Illnesses

It's that time of year again, folks.  Summer is arriving in all its glory.  It's time to enjoy family get togethers, endless amounts of sunshine, picnics, swimming and for spending time at the beach.  Unfortunately, not everything about summer is all fun and good times.  Along with the good things of summer come the bad things:  ticks.

If you live in an area of the world where ticks are a problem you know all too well about the nasty little bloodsuckers and the problems they can cause.  They cling to the high grass and weeds in your yard, in the woods and even on the backs of the leaves on the trees and wait for a warm-blooded creature to come by.  It might be your family dog or it might be you that is unlucky enough to pass by the waiting pest.  When something does brush past, the tick leaves its station and works its way to a warm part of the body where it can attach itself to the skin and begin to feed.  If you are lucky, you catch it before it has a chance to attach itself to your skin.

Ticks are are arachnids belonging to the superfamily lxodiodea and are ectoparasites that feed upon the blood of a host.  They attach themselves to virtually any host including birds, humans, deer, dogs, cats and even reptiles and amphibians including snakes.  Newborn ticks, also known as "seed ticks" can attack in infestations of up to 30,000 ticks at a single time.  That's a lot of ticks!

As if it isn't bad enough that you've got a creepy little bloodsucking creature crawling on you and attaching itself to your skin, ticks are also well-known for being the carriers of what are called "tick-borne illnesses".  Just what kind of illnesses the ticks carry depends upon what area of the world you are in.  There are several different tick-borne illnesses including the much-publicized Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

In the very young and the elderly, tick-borne illnesses can be extremely difficult to deal with and, in some cases, even fatal.  Some of the illnesses can, if left untreated, cause arthritis, heart problems, neurological problems, facial paralysis and lung or kidney failure.  So, it's imperative that the illnesses these little buggers carry is treated as soon as possible.

But how do you know if you've contracted a tick-borne illness?

Signs of infection can begin to occur a few days to a few weeks after an infected tick is removed from the body.  Usually, flu-like symptoms and a rash are the first indicators of infection.  Other symptoms can be headaches, muscle aches, fever, nausea, vomiting, joint pain and abdominal pain.  The symptoms can depend upon the actual tick-borne illness you have contracted.  If you remove a tick and experience any of the above symptoms, however, it is a very good idea to consult your physician immediately and let him/her know how you are feeling and that you removed a tick from your body.  Being able to describe the tick or show the actual insect to your doctor will be a help to him/her as well.

Tick-borne illnesses are usually treated with a cycle of antibiotics lasting 5 to 10 days or longer depending upon the severity of the infection.  If the infection is more severe, a brief hospital stay may be warranted.  Your doctor will do laboratory work as well as a physical examination.  With proper treatment the effects of the illness shouldn't last forever, although, while suffering from the symptoms of the illness it might feel like forever.

Do you need to know how to properly remove a tick that has attached itself to your skin?  Read this article presented by the United States Centers for Disease Control.

For more information, please visit the following web sites:

United States Center for Disease Control
WebMD Tick Bites Topic Overview
Mayo Clinic Tick Borne-Illnesses

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