May is Lyme Disease Awareness month for a reason.
Once the warmer weather sets in, anyone heading outdoors will need to take precautions against tick bites and the illnesses they carry.
Illnesses such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, tularemia and ehrlichiosis can cause mild symptoms or severe infections.
In La Salle County, Lyme disease is the tick-related illness seen most commonly. There were five cases of Lyme disease confirmed in the county in 2017. Going back to 2014, there were 24 cases recorded.
Lyme disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks.
The risk of exposure to ticks is greatest in the woods and in the edge area between lawns and woods; however, ticks can also be carried by animals onto lawns and gardens and into houses by pets. Campers, hikers, outdoor workers and others may be exposed to infected ticks in wooded, brushy and grassy places. People who spend time in heavily wooded areas where infected ticks are common are at higher risk for exposure.
“While antibiotics can treat illnesses due to tick bites, it’s best to avoid tick bites altogether by taking some simple precautions,” said Chris Pozzi, director of environmental health at La Salle County Health Department, in a press statement.
Simple tips to avoid ticks bites include:
Wear light-colored, protective clothing — long-sleeved shirts, long trousers, boots or sturdy shoes and a head covering. Tuck long pants into socks and boots.
Apply insect repellant containing 10 percent to 30 percent DEET primarily to clothes.
Use products that contain permethrin to treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and sleeping tents. Or look for clothing pre-treated with permethrin.
Walk in the center of trails so weeds do not brush against you.
Check yourself, children, other family members and pets for ticks every two to three hours (especially ears, hair, neck, legs and between the toes).
Check outdoor pets often for ticks. Ticks can “hitch a ride” on pets and into your home. Tick collars, sprays, shampoos, or monthly “top spot” medications help protect pets against ticks.
If a tick is found attached to the skin, don't panic. Remove the tick as soon as possible to reduce chances of getting an infection from the tick bite.
The CDC recommends the following steps to remove a tick:
Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible.
Pull upward with steady, even pressure to remove the tick. Avoid twisting or jerking. If the mouthparts remain in the skin, leave them alone. In most cases, they will fall out in a few days.
Don’t use nail polish, petroleum jelly, or a hot match to make the tick detach.
Clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
If you become ill with a fever and/or rash after being in an area where ticks may be, contact a health care provider. The most common symptoms of tick-related illnesses can include fever, chills, aches, pains and rash (not in all cases). Early recognition and treatment of the infection decreases the risk of serious complications.
For additional information, contact the La Salle County Health Department at 815-433-3366. The agency’s website can be accessed at lasallecounty.org.
Number of human cases of Lyme disease in La Salle County:
Information provided by La Salle County Health Department