SC Forestry warns: miniature bloodsuckers will be hungrier

Deer tick (Source: SC Forestry Commission)
Deer tick (Source: SC Forestry Commission)

SOUTH CAROLINA (WMBF) Following a mild Winter and warm Spring, officials with the South Carolina Forestry Commission are urging awareness of the ticks they expect to see in the coming months.

Laurie Reid, SC Forestry Commission Entomologist, says that people are spending more time outdoors and during the earlier months due to the warmer temperatures. It that time outdoors is spent enjoying nature's bounty, you may meet and unexpected guests, ticks.

According to Reid, scientists cannot say that there will be more ticks than usual this year but weather patterns and fluctuations will make them 'hungrier.'

Myrtle Beach State Park Ranger Ann Wilson said the park has already seen seen an increase in tick activity this year.

"Normally at this park we don't have lot of ticks, but we're starting to see some this year," Wilson said.  "So there are some precautions you can take."

Reid says the Palmetto State is home to four species of ticks capable of transferring diseases to humans while feeding: American Dog tick, Lone Star tick, Blacklegged or "Deer" tick, and the Brown Dog tick.

If you recognize any of the following symptoms, those diseases can be treated early:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Muscle aches

Left untreated, those illnesses can develop into long term problems including chronic joint pain, nervous system issues and heart complications. Some victims of tick bites even experience a localized allergic reaction, often presented as a red rash that may persist for weeks or months.

Lyme disease, the most well-known tick-vectored disease, is bacterial delivered by Blacklegged ticks that attach to their victims for at least 24 hours.

Symptoms of Lyme disease usually appear within weeks of the attachment as a 'bulls-eye' rash that expands daily, possibly reaching six to 10 inches in diameter.

"Lyme disease is a tough disease to diagnose," Wilson said.  "Some of the symptoms can be...things people associate with other illlnesses."

The Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness (STARI) is a less-known disease transmitted by the common Lone Star tick after attaching to its victim for 36 hours. This disease presents as a rash with an open spore within a week of the initial infection. The rash may be accompanied by fever, fatigue, headache and muscle or joint pain. Unlike Lyme disease, STARI has not been associated with long term medical issues.

Reid suggests that the best way to protect your skin from ticks is to limit contact, but that doesn't mean limiting fun.

Working and playing outside doesn't have to be a tick buffet. Wear light-colored clothing so you can easily see if anything is preying on you. Wear long sleeved shirts with long pants and use inset repellant that contains DEET.

Once you get back indoors, check yourself immediately for any unwanted guests, and be sure to check your family and pets too.

Wilson said it is also important to make sure pet owners use a tick repellant on their animals to protect them as well.

Another precaution Reid suggests is washing your clothes in the warmest temperatures allowed by the guidelines on the clothing labels.

If you find a tick in your skin, remove it with tweezers by grasping the tick at the point nearest your skin and pulling slowly. It's best to disinfect your skin with antiseptic.

Here's what you shouldn't do:

  • Do not crush or burn the tick while it is embedded in skin.
  • Do not smother the tick with petroleum jelly or some similar substance.
  • Do not crush the removed tick between your fingers. This could allow you to come into contact with disease.

Wilson also suggested, if you are bitten by a tick, keeping the specimen once you have safely removed it and keeping it in a ziploc bag.  If you begin to feel ill at any point, tests can reveal if the symptoms are related to the tick bite.

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