For the first time, tick populations across the U.S. are being monitored by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the organization, the need behind the effort is due to the rise in people diagnosed with serious diseases carried by ticks, fleas and mosquitos more than doubling over the past several decades.
“For the first time this year, the CDC is funding states to conduct widespread surveillance of ticks and the pathogens they can transmit, in addition to funding human disease surveillance and education and prevention,” Anna Perea of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases’ Division of Vector-Borne Diseases said in a news release. “Taken together, the date can help define areas where ticks are spreading, the infectious pathogens that they carry and where risk of tick-borne disease is increasing.”
Data shows that in 2017, state and local health developments reported a record number of cases to the CDC from 48,610 cases in 2016 to 59,349 cases in 2017, but it could be more.
“Under-reporting of all tick borne diseases is common, so the number of people actually affected is much higher,” the CDC reports.
Between 2014 and 2016, researchers also discovered seven new tick-borne pathogens that can infect people.
Reasons for the increases are unclear but there are factors that can affect tick numbers every year, including temperature, rainfall, humidity and populations of host animals including mice, tick densities also varying from region to region.
“Numbers of reported tick[-]borne disease cases are also affected by healthcare provider awareness, testing and reporting practices,” CDC officials said.
It’s also important to define what a tick-borne illness actually is.
The Arkansas Department of Health states the illness is a type of “zoonotic disease” which means an infectious disease transmitted between animals and humans. The disease is first transmitted by the bug, in this case, a tick, a member of the arachnid family.
“In Arkansas, ticks are responsible for more human disease than any other insect, but not all ticks transmit disease,” the ADH website reads. “Of the many different tick species found in Arkansas, only a select few bite and transmit disease to humans.”
There are more than five diseases that are known to occur across the Natural State including Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), Ehrlichiosis, Tularemia, Anaplasmosis, Lyme Disease, Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness (STARI), Alpha-Gal and Heartland Virus and Bourbon Virus, both merging types.
Babesiosis, which is caused by parasites that infect red blood cells, was also reported in Arkansas back in 2016.
Arkansas was also recently among 11 other states where the Asian Long-Horned Tick has been found.
“While the tick hasn’t causes any series complications in humans yet, infectious disease researchers are becoming increasingly alarmed because of the fact that it can reproduce in very large numbers and they’re not sure what viruses and bacteria it can transmit to human,” officials said.
The CDC published steps the public can take to reduce their chances and protect themselves against the issue until “improved prevention and control methods” are available:
• Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD) or 2-undecanone.
• Treat clothing and gear with products that contain .5 percent permethrin, which can be used to treat boots, clothing and camping gear and remain protective after several washings.
• Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to check entire body and clothing for ticks after returning from areas, including backyards, that have potential to be tick infested. Place tick-infested clothing in a dryer of high heat for at least 10 minutes to kill ticks.
• Shower within two hours of coming indoors.
If someone does find a tick, there are also proper ways to remove the arachnid:
1. Don’t panic. The key is to remove it as soon as possible.
2. Grab a pair of tweezers.
3. Grasp the tick close to the skin’s surface.
4. Pull upward with a steady, yet even pressure being careful not to twist or jerk the tick, which can cause the mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin, which if happens, also needs to be removed.
5. After removing the tick, clean the area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soup and water.
“Never crush a tick with your fingers,” the CDC warns.
Instead, officials advise the public to dispose of the tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag or container, wrapping it tightly in tape or flushing it down the toilet.
“If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor,” CDC website states. “Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred and where you most likely acquired the tick.”
Symptom of tick-related illnesses, ADH officials said, can vary from mild to severe.
The most common include fever or chills, aches and pains and a rash, which happens with Lyme disease, STARI, RMSF, and several others.
“Although easily treated with antibiotics, these diseases can be difficult for physicians to diagnose,” officials warn. “However, early recognition and treatment of the infection decreases the risk of serious complications. So see your doctor immediately if you have been bitten by a tick and experience any of the symptoms described.”