Mid-summer is upon us and it’s time to enjoy the great outdoors! However, trekking through woods and trail does come with a caveat. This is also the time of year we have to worry about vector-borne diseases. A “vector-borne disease” is an illness transmitted to people by very unpopular blood-sucking insects. Disease carriers are the “vectors:” usually mosquitoes and ticks. Mosquitoes carry the infectious material that causes malaria and West Nile virus. And ticks are the culprits that transmit Lyme disease. Both summer and Fall are high tick season. And while the most famous tick-borne disease is Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Anaplasmosis are other diseases carried and transmitted by ticks.
Professor of medicine and infectious disease, David Calfee explains, “Lyme disease is a summertime problem, with its peak in July and August. So when people spend the most time outside, ticks are the most active.” Ticks are mostly found in wooded and grassy areas, so you need to be watchful about your exposure. Ticks are very small arachnids that look similar to mites and can attach themselves to a mammal’s skin. Not only should people be cautious when it comes to tick exposure, it is important to protect dogs from tick bites, too!
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
When a person contracts an illness from a tick bite, the initial symptoms are nonspecific—making it somewhat difficult to diagnose. Calfee says, “The most common symptoms are fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle or joint pain.” However, the early stage of Lyme disease has a characteristic skin rash that can help people identify it. People often develop a ‘bull’s-eye’ mark where the bite occurred. It may enlarge over time, and the perimeter of the bull’s-eye stays red while the center tends to turn back to normal flesh color. Rocky Mountain spotted fever also has a characteristic rash of small spots. Awareness of these symptoms is helpful for identifying the ailment and seeking treatment.
How to Avoid Lyme Disease
The key to fighting a tick-borne disease, such as Lyme disease is avoidance and awareness. For Lyme disease, the tick has to be attached for more than 24 hours in order to transmit the disease. It is essential to use insect repellent! Repellents containing DEET are the most successful for preventing tick bites. People need to perform a full-body tick check any time they have been exposed to the elements. If you do find a tick, carefully remove it with tweezers, and be sure to remove the entire insect. Then clean the area with either rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Antibiotics are used to treat patients who contract Lyme disease; if left untreated, the infection can cause arthritis or other problems.
Protect Your Dogs from Ticks
For those of you who know me well, you know that I am a dog lover! I have 4 dogs of my own who love to be outdoors. Since there are wooded areas near our home and on trails we take the dogs, we always check the dogs for ticks when we come home. Ticks attach themselves to dogs—typically in the head, neck, feet and ear area. If you see a tick, try to remove it immediately—but there is a correct way to do it! You don’t want the tick’s blood to come in contact with your dog. First, prep the area with rubbing alcohol. Then, pluck the parasite with tweezers, making sure you get the entire tick out. Since you want to make sure no disease was transmitted, it is best for your dog to be evaluated by a veterinarian.
Safe Insect Repellents for Dogs
Do not use insect repellent designed for humans on dogs. DEET is toxic when ingested by animals—and dogs tend to lick things off. It’s important to get a repellent specially formulated for dogs. Products like K9 Advantix II will repel mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, and flies for up to 30 days. Ask your veterinarian which repellent they recommend for your dog. That way, both you and your pets can be protected!