NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Department of Health is seeing significant increases in tick-borne illnesses this year following an unusually mild winter and spring. Cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever are up 533 percent compared to this time last year, according to Abelardo Moncayo, Ph.D., with the TDH Division of Communicable and Environmental Diseases and Emergency Preparedness.
“We’ve documented 38 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, compared with only six by the same time last year,” Moncayo said. “We are also seeing increased numbers of other tick-borne infections compared to last year.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is the most serious tick-borne disease in the United States. Symptoms usually appear two to 14 days after a bite from an infected tick. The disease often begins with sudden onset of fever and headache. Early symptoms may resemble other diseases and include nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, lack of appetite and severe headache. Later symptoms may include rash, abdominal pain, joint pain and diarrhea.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a serious illness that can be fatal if not treated correctly, even in previously healthy people. It and other tick-borne illnesses can have devastating effects, but are effectively treated with antibiotics. Persons with symptoms should see their medical provider for early diagnosis and treatment.
Tick-borne diseases are best prevented by avoiding tick bites. Some tips from the Tennessee Department of Health include:
- Wear light-colored clothing to help you spot ticks that may catch a ride on you.
- Tuck pants into socks to keep ticks off your legs.
- Apply EPA-approved repellents to discourage tick attachment. Repellents containing permethrin can be sprayed on shoes and clothing and will last for several days. Repellents containing DEET can be applied to skin, but must be reapplied every few hours. Follow label instructions for repellents.
- Search your entire body for ticks upon return from a potentially tick-infested area. Remove any tick you find on your body; grasp with tweezers and pull straight back if the tick is attached.
- Check children for ticks, especially in their hair, when returning from potentially tick-infested areas.
- Ticks may also be carried into your home on clothing and pets, so examine both carefully.
- Reduce tick habitats around your home by removing leaf litter and brush.
For more information on preventing tick-borne illness, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov/ticks/index.html.