How to stay safe from ticks + tick-borne diseases—expert advice from Children’s of Alabama

Tick-borne disease
Make sure you check yourself + your furry friends for ticks. (Jacob Blakenship / Bham Now)

The sun’s out, so we want to be out too. But hold up—the ticks are out too! These pesky critters are back out on the prowl in Birmingham, but never fear, we know ways to prevent tick-borne disease and what to do if you’ve been bitten. Keep reading for more details.

It’s tick season in Alabama

tick-borne disease
Be careful when you’re having fun in the sun. (Jacob Blakenship / Bham Now)

We love the fun events, cool treats and activities that come with summer. But we don’t love how it’s also tick season.

“They’re actually not very common. For most tick-borne illnesses, the tick has to be on the body for at least 24, maybe even 48 hours.

So if it’s a tick that you just noticed on your leg and took off the tick and you’re like no it wasn’t there earlier in the day or it definitely wasn’t there yesterday, you really don’t have to worry about it.”

Dr. Peily Soong, Pediatrician, Children’s of Alabama

How to prevent + get rid of ticks

tick-borne disease
No matter the outdoor activity, make sure you’re prepared to prevent ticks. (Jacob Blakenship / Bham Now)

Before you get too ticked off of how these creepy, crawly arachnids are causing tick-borne diseases to rise in our great state, we have some tips from Alabama Public Health on how to prevent them from getting on you:

  • Check your body and clothes for ticks within two hours of heading back indoors
  • Make sure you use tick repellent with at least 20% DEET, picaridin or IR3535 on exposed skin
  • Stay away from brushy, wooded areas
  • Treat your clothes with 0.5% permethrin
  • Walk in the middle of trails

Sometimes prevention isn’t good enough and ticks still manage to get to you. Here’s how you can safely take that creature off of you:

  • Use tweezers to grab the tick close to your skin
  • Pull straight up on the tick
  • Get rid of the tick by putting it in alcohol or a sealed container or flush it down the toilet
  • Clean the bite and your hands with water, soap and rubbing alcohol

Next up: symptoms of tick-borne diseases you want to me on the lookout for.

1. Spotted fever

As the most common tick-borne disease in Alabama, be on the lookout for these symptoms of spotted fever within a few days to two weeks of being bitten:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Lack of appetite
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Spotted red rash
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting

This one is treated with antibiotics, so make sure you head to your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

2. Lyme disease

If you’ve been bitten by a tick, it could be days or weeks until you experience symptoms of Lyme disease. They can include:

  • Bull’s-eye rash
  • Chills
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Joint pains
  • Mental fogginess
  • Muscle aches
  • Stiff neck
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Lyme disease is can be treated with antibiotics, but make sure you get treatment ASAP.

3. Southern tick-associated rash illness

Also known as Masters disease, this tick-borne disease is becoming more and more common in the South. Make sure you look out for:

  • Bull’s-eye rash
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint pain

Like Lyme disease, this tick-borne disease is treated with antibiotics, so make sure you visit your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

4. Ehrlichiosis

As another common disease in the South, make sure you’re also on the lookout if your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms within five to ten days of being bitten:

  • Body rash
  • Confusion
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle ache
  • Nausea
  • Tiredness
  • Vomiting

This is another tick-borne disease you want to get help for ASAP because it can lead to a serious lifelong illness and possible death.

5. Anaplasmosis

After one to two weeks of being bitten, look out for these signs of Anaplasmosis:

  • Chills
  • Confusion
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle and stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Tiredness

Antibiotics can help beat this disease. Make sure to get them right away because long-term complications and death are possible.

6. Babesiosis

Different from the other tick-borne diseases, this one is not bacterial but caused by a parasite. Sometimes, symptoms never appear, but you can be on the lookout for these ones:

  • Anemia
  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Sweats
  • Tiredness

Be sure to watch your dog for these symptoms too because it can become serious if not treated early.

7. Tularemia

This one isn’t only a tick-borne disease but also caused by deer flies and handling an infected animal’s carcass. Signs of Tularemia to watch for within three to five days of being bitten include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Skin ulcers
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Vomiting

Once again, make sure you get antibiotic treatment right away to lower the chances of serious effects.

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Selah Vetter
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