Rough season for ticks
Thursday, 13 July 2017
By Valerie Collins
GUIDON volunteer

Spending time outdoors in Missouri means protecting against any number of bugs and ticks.

The main reason ticks are a concern is they transmit disease. Reducing exposure to ticks is the best defense against maladies such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and several other tick-borne illnesses.

According to experts with the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, ticks are actually born pathogen free, but because they feed on blood, they often serve as a carrier. If, for example, a tick feeds on an organism infected with a blood-borne pathogen and then feeds on a human, that person will likely acquire the pathogen and become ill.
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Courtesy illustration

One tick making a name for itself is the lone star tick. Identifiable by a single white dot on its back, this tick is causing some serious side effects, according to the CDC.

National Geographic published a story June 21 about a meat allergy caused by the bite of the lone star tick. The allergy is caused by Alpha-Gal which, the article states, is a sugar molecule that activates the body’s allergy immune system.

When a lone star tick bites a person, it transmits the Alpha-Gal molecule which passes through the digestive system, triggering this immune system making a person intolerant to red meat.

Due to a delayed reaction, most people who develop the Alpha-Gal allergy do not associate their symptoms to the tick bite.

Females in both the nymph and adult stages are the ones that most frequently bite humans, according to the CDC.

2nd Lt. Dong Zhang, chief of Environmental Health at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, said the most important thing to remember is prevention.

“Using bug spray and checking for ticks is key,” said Zhang, adding it is also important to conduct tick checks on battle buddies.

The Department of Defense advises service members that the best way to prevent tick bites is to use its built-in insect-repellant system. That system is already present in U.S. military uniforms, which are pre-treated with permethrin, a pesticide that kills ticks on contact. Service members should also make sure trouser legs are tucked inside boots, and use a DEET-based insect repellant on any exposed skin.

Zhang stressed the importance of talking with your primary care manager if you suspect you have been bitten by a tick. Ticks can carry any number of diseases, so it is important for a doctor to examine anyone who has come into contact.

“It is crucial that you try to locate the tick,” Zhang said.

 According to the CDC, if you are bitten and the tick has fully attached itself, you should remove it carefully with fine point tweezers.

First, disinfect the surrounding area with an alcohol swab. Next, place tweezers as close to the skin as possible and grasp the tick firmly. Pull straight up slowly until the tick either comes out or breaks.

The infectious material is much further back in the tick’s body, so there is no reason to fret if the head breaks off during removal. After removing the tick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people thoroughly clean the bite area and their hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or soap and water.

After removal, keep the tick in a clean plastic bag and store it in a cool, dry place like a refrigerator. Make an appointment with a primary care provider to have the tick identified and tested for any diseases.

As for the lone star tick causing a meat allergy, Zhang said your doctor can conduct an allergy test if you suspect you have it.

 The Missouri Department of Conservation has detailed information about the three most common ticks in Missouri on its website at https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/ticks. There, you can learn more about the lone star tick, American dog tick and the deer tick.

The GUIDON will follow-up next week to tell the story of Adrina Becker, a Department of the Army civilian on Fort Leonard Wood who developed the Alpha-Gal allergy from a tick bite.

(Editor’s note: GUIDON assistant editor, Matt Decker, contributed to this story.)
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 26 July 2017 )