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6 tips for avoiding ticks and treating bites this summer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- April 8, 2013 – MiddleTennessee experienced a great increase in ticks last year, thanks in part to a warm winter and early spring. The spike in ticks corresponded with a frightening increase in the number of cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a potentially life-threatening disease that is most common in Tennessee, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri.

Gardening, hiking and other popular outdoor activities put Tennesseans at risk for tick bites, so Candace Smith, Infection Control Director for Saint Thomas Hospital urges everyone to learn how to prevent and treat them. 

“It’s like that old adage – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Smith said. “Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be treated with antibiotics, but it’s important to catch it early – otherwise, patients may have complications, or it can even be fatal.” 

To prevent and treat tick bites, Smith recommends taking the following precautions: 

  • Check yourself and your family: After spending time outside, take a shower, check your entire body for ticks, and make sure your family members do the same. Pay particular attention to areas where ticks like to hide, such as under arms, in and around ears, inside the belly button, in and around hair, between the legs and around the waist. Ticks may also cling to clothing, so either check dirty clothes for ticks or wash them immediately. 
  • Use insect repellent on your skin: Pick a repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, which provides several hours of protection. Follow all product instructions.   
  • Use insect repellent on your clothes and shoes: Spray repellents containing permethrin on clothing, shoes and outdoor gear, such as tents. These repellents will last for several days. Again, follow all product instructions.   
  • Reduce exposure to ticks: Ticks thrive in wooded and grassy areas, especially places with leaves on the ground, tall grass or shrubs. When hiking, walk in the middle of the trail to avoid contact with ticks. In your backyard, remove fallen leaves and regularly cut the grass to reduce tick habitats. Place gravel or wood chips between wooded areas and playgrounds or other recreational spaces to keep ticks out.    
  • If bitten, remove the tick properly: If you are bitten by a tick, remove it as soon as possible to lower your risk of infection. Remove the tick by using tweezers to grasp it close to the skin’s surface, and then pull upward with one firm, steady motion. Avoid twisting or jerking the tick, which may cause bits of its mouth to remain in the skin. After removing the tick, wash your hands and clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.  
  • Watch for symptoms: The symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever include fever and chills, aches and pains, headaches, abdominal pain, vomiting and a distinctive rash. If you experience any or all of these symptoms within a few weeks of being bitten by a tick, see your healthcare provider immediately.  

Although tick-borne illnesses are rising in Tennessee, they remain rare. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were between 19 and 63 cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever per one million people in Tennessee in 2010, making the illness much less threatening than other infectious diseases. 

“Protecting against tick bites is a simple thing to do. It’s like putting on sunscreen at the beach or installing fire detectors at your house. Some things are just common sense,” Smith said.  

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