Tick-borne illnesses, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, are rising in Alabama

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Photo via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The carefree days of outdoor summer fun are becoming more risky as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the number of tick-borne illnesses in Alabama are rising (2,451 tick-borne illness cases reported in the state between 2004 and 2016). But before you get too ticked off, we have everything you need to know to make your summer safer.

What Are Ticks?

You’ve heard about ticks. But if you haven’t actually done your research or seen one in person, you may be uncertain about what they actually are. So listen up!

Ticks are small arachnids that are part of the order parasitiformes. Since they are ectoparasites (external parasites), they live by feeding on the blood of mammals, birds and sometimes reptiles and amphibians. This include tasty humans like yourself. (Insert heeby jeeby dance!)

I’ll save you from a mind-numbing biology lesson, so just click this link if you want more info about the anatomy, life cycles, etc. of these creepy crawlies.

Where Do Ticks Live?

Tick species are widely distributed around the world, but they tend to flourish most in areas with warm, humid climates. No wonder they like Alabama!

What Tick-Borne Illnesses Are Spreading in Alabama?

In Alabama, the most common disease on the rise from tick bites is Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis – better known as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

The CDC has reported that the number of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever cases in Alabama has jumped from 79 cases in 2011 to 452 cases in 2016.

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Number of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever cases reported to the CDC. Photo via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever isn’t the only common tick-borne illness on the rise in Alabama. There has also been an increase in:

Each of these diseases produce symptoms that range from mild to severe infections requiring hospitalization and potential life-long complications.

The Zika virus from mosquitos has been reported in Alabama this year, too. Read all about it.

How Bad Is Tick Season Right Now?

Though there have been reports of an increase in the amount of ticks that are spreading illnesses in Alabama, the CDC states that predicting the number of Lyme disease or other tick-borne infections, and how an upcoming season will compare to previous years, is complicated. Why?

There are two main reasons:

  1. Ticks that spread disease to humans can have up to a three year life cycle.
  2. There are many factors that can affect their numbers, including temperature, rainfall, humidity and the amount of available hosts for the ticks to feed on (mice, deer, etc.).

This means that the number of ticks in a certain area will be different every year.

So what do you do? Prevent, prevent, prevent!

Prevention Tips

The best defense against Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections is to take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your family from getting a tick bite. You may think the risk of tick bites are only possible when camping, hiking or hunting… well, think again! You can also get them in your very own backyard.

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Photo via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To prevent tick bites, here are some things the CDC recommends:

  • Avoiding areas with high grass and leaf litter.
  • Using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol or 2-undecanone. (Be sure to always follow the instructions and pay attention to the minimum age requirements.)
  • Treating your pets (especially dogs) for ticks. Click here to prevent ticks from harming your pets.
  • Conducting a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Parents – be sure to check your kids thoroughly for ticks each time they come in from playing outside. If you see a tick, remove it right away. (For tick removal instructions, see below or click here.)

Read the full list of tips here.

You can also prevent ticks from inhabiting your yard by:

  • Removing leaf litter.
  • Mowing your lawn frequently.
  • Clearing tall grass and brush from around your home and the edge of your lawn.
  • Keeping playground equipment, decks and patios away from the edge of your yard and trees.

Find the full list of tips here.

How to Remove a Tick

If you see a tick on your skin, it can be quite alarming. Don’t panic, but it is important to remove the tick from your skin quickly and correctly.

Birmingham, Alabama, ticks
Photo via The Health Site.

To remove a tick from your skin, follow these four steps suggested by the CDC:

  1. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let it heal.
  3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
  4. Never crush a tick with your fingers. Instead, dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape or flushing it down the toilet. 
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“Bull’s-eye” rash often found in cases of Lyme disease. Photo via Health Secrets.
Symptoms to Watch Out For

After removing an engorged tick be aware of these symptoms:

  • Red spot or rash near the bite site (often in the form of a bull’s-eye)
  • Full body rash
  • Neck stiffness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Muscle or joint pain and achiness
  • Fever

Have you seen any ticks this year?