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Taking precautions can curb tick risks

Blade - 6/19/2017

June 19--The last souvenir anyone wants to take home from a day out enjoying nature is a tick bite.

As tick season kicks into full gear, the thought of the tiny little creepy crawlies can be shudder-inducing. But with a few precautions and dutiful checking, there's no reason not to enjoy the great outdoors this summer, said Ashley Smith, manager of outdoor skills programming for the Metroparks of the Toledo Area.

"This is prime tick season right now," Ms. Smith said, adding that it runs April through September. "In our area, the most common tick is the American dog tick; the deer tick is much more rare and not common in this area."

The American dog tick is not known to transmit Lyme disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but precautions are still encouraged when venturing out in the Toledo area.

And people hold plenty of misconceptions about the way the ticks move, how to get them off, and their health risks, she said.

"The biggest thing is just prevention; there are a lot of things you can do to prevent it. People get a little freaked out about them, [but] they only crawl. They don't fly, they don't fall from trees," Ms. Smith said. "At Metroparks one of our big rules is to stay on the trail."

Ticks are often transferred from tall grass or other shrubbery to a person or animal.

Dress to maximize protecting the skin when heading outside, Ms. Smith said. That means long sleeves and long pants when possible, and pant legs tucked into socks. Use bug spray with DEET or a permethin spray on clothing. Give everyone a good once-over after any outdoor excursions, especially children and pets who might be more prone to wander into grassy areas.

Where should you check? Everywhere, Ms. Smith said, suggesting a full headtotoe examination of the skin. The CDC specifically points out to check under the arms, in and around the ears, belly button, back of knees in and around hair, between legs, and around the waist.

As an added precaution, throw clothes in the dryer on high for about 10 minutes to kill any ticks that might be hanging on, she said.

If you find one, don't panic. And please don't use gasoline, matches, or petroleum jelly to try to remove it, Ms. Smith said.

"There are a lot of weird myths about that," she said. "None of those are recommended at all."

Instead, use a tweezers to pinch as close to the tick's head as possible and pull out slowly, she said. That pressure will force the tick to release its grip. Yanking too fast can leave bits of the tick behind, so slow and steady wins the day.

"We aren't considered one of the top locations [for ticks], that's the good news," said Amy Spangler, a pediatric nurse practitioner with Mercy Health. "If people are traveling, that is something to consider."

Lyme disease and other tickborne illnesses are also possible, so being proactive about checking for bites is encouraged. A 2-year-old Indiana girl died earlier this month from a suspected case of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever caused by a tick bite, though health officials won't know the official cause for several weeks.

Lyme disease is relatively rare in Ohio, though cases have steadily increased in recent years. The Ohio Department of Health reported 160 human cases across the state in all of 2016, though steadily increasing from 33 in 2007. Fourteen cases have been identified so far in 2017.

In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours to transfer the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, according to the CDC.

The telltale bull's-eye rash is one common sign, but flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, fatigue, body aches are also possible. Suspected cases are treated with a round of antibiotics.

"Prevention is worth it," Ms. Spangler said. "If you're concerned about it, taking those preventative steps is worth it. It shouldn't stop anyone from enjoying the things they like to do outside."

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at llindstrom@theblade.com, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

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