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Release Date: 6/11/2014

Increase in tick cases at Urgent Care Centers

As the weather warms up, St. Anthony’s is treating more tick bites at its urgent care centers. This increase hits as we enter the late spring and summer months, when humans are most at risk for acquiring a tick-borne infection based on the timing of the life-cycle of a tick.

Four types of ticks are common for the St. Louis area and are believed to spread eight different diseases. The newly identified Heartland virus, first identified in 2012, has been found in eight patients in Missouri and Tennessee, with one patient dying. Other tick-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease, are far more common. Missouri has a high rate of ehrlichiosis, a bacterial illness that causes flu-like symptoms.

A tick must come in direct contact with you to get on your skin; this usually happens when you brush up against a tick as it sits on a blade of grass, shrub or leaf. Once on your body, a tick will attach itself to get the blood it needs for feeding. If you find a tick, you should remove it immediately. Removing a tick within 48 hours of it imbedding in your skin lowers the risk of contracting a tick-borne illness to less than one percent. There are devices you can buy for tick removal, but a pair of fine-tipped tweezers works well. Use the tweezers to grab the tick as close to your skin as possible, then pull upward with steady pressure – don’t twist or jerk the tick; you want to pull out the entire tick. If the tick’s mouth breaks off and sticks to your skin, make sure to remove it, too. You may have heard about other remedies for removing ticks, such as covering one with nail polish or petroleum jelly or using heat to get the tick to detach. These are not the best options because they delay removing the tick.

Once you’ve been bitten by a tick, you need to watch for any symptoms. The most common symptoms for tick-related diseases are fever, chills, rash, headaches, muscle aches, fatigue or, in the case of Lyme disease, joint pain. If you notice any symptoms, see a doctor quickly. The faster you start receiving treatment, the more likely you will avoid serious complications. Tick-borne diseases are easily treated with antibiotics. Patients may suffer mild symptoms that can be treated at home or end up with severe infections requiring a stay in the hospital.

As with any disease, prevention is the best option. There are some things you can do to avoid tick bites. First, try to avoid direct contact with ticks by avoiding wooded and bushy areas with high grass. If you are walking on a trail, stay in the middle of the trail. Keep your lawn short by mowing frequently and build a barrier of wood chips or gravel between wooded areas and your yard and around play equipment. You may choose to use repellent containing DEET or permethrin. Second, take actions after possible exposure to ticks. Take a bath or shower to find and wash off any ticks. Make sure to check every part of your body since ticks will crawl to parts of your skin that were not exposed outdoors. Put your clothes in the dryer on high heat for an hour to kill any ticks. And check any gear and your pets to make sure they did not carry any ticks with them. If you want to learn more about protecting your pets from ticks, speak to your veterinarian. You can also learn more about ticks from the CDC.

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