While Lyme disease is probably the most highly publicized illness carried by ticks, Ocean County officials are warning residents and visitors to beware that tick bites can result in a variety of illnesses.
“When spending time outdoors it’s very important to be vigilant of tick bites,” said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari, who serves as liaison to the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Service of Ocean County. “Ocean County agencies are working together in order to educate and raise awareness so we can keep the number of tick borne illness incidents low.”
According to Ocean County health officials, the same tick that is known to spread Lyme disease in New Jersey – the black legged tick or deer tick – especially in its nymph stage which is the size of a poppy seed, also can spread Babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Six cases of Babesiosis, a disease caused by microscopic parasites which infect red blood cells, were recently reported in Ocean County, while another five are being investigated.
Babesiosis can be a severe, life-threatening disease, especially in elderly people, those who do not have a spleen, and those who have a weakened immune system and/or other serious health conditions.
“With Ocean County’s large senior population it is important for them and their caregivers to be aware of this illness and to be careful when participating in outdoor activities,” said Vicari, who serves as chairman of Senior Services.
There are effective treatments available for Babesiosis. If you were bitten by a deer tick or black-legged tick or you find a tick on your body and do not know how long it has been attached you should contact your physician. It is important to discuss whether treatment is needed or treatment options. Your physician may also want to test you for all tick-borne illnesses.
Many people who are infected with the babesia parasite feel fine and do not have any symptoms, although some people develop flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, sweats, headache, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea or fatigue.
Officials say that the best defense to tick borne illnesses is a good offense.
“One of the most important things we can do is to take steps to reduce the chance of becoming infected with any tick-borne infection,” said Freeholder Gerry P. Little, who serves as liaison to the Ocean County Health Department. “It is extremely important for those at risk, including the elderly, to avoid exposure to tick habitats.”
The deer tick is found mostly during the warm months of spring and summer and is so tiny that many people bitten have no recollection of being bitten by a tick.
The Ocean County Health Department suggests that people take the following precautions to keep ticks off their skin:
• Walk on cleared trails and stay in the center of a trail to minimize contact with leaf litter, brush and high grasses where ticks are likely to be found.
• Minimize the amount of exposed skin. Wear thick white socks, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck the pant legs into the socks, so ticks cannot crawl up the inside of the pants. Wearing light-colored clothing also makes it easier to see ticks. If you see any ticks while still outside, remove them immediately before going indoors.
• Golfers walking through brushy areas should be aware of ticks.
• Apply repellents to skin and clothing; read and follow the label instructions.
• Products that contain DEET can be directly applied to exposed skin and to clothing to help keep ticks away. The product label will give details about how to apply the repellent and how to use it safely on children.
• Permethrin (hunter-grade) products can be applied to clothing/boots/shoes (NOT TO SKIN) and actually kill ticks on contact with the treated clothing. This is usually effective on clothing through several washings.
After outdoor activities, be sure to check your body for ticks and remove any immediately. The babesia parasite is so tiny it is easy to be overlooked. Use a hand-held mirror to thoroughly view all parts of the body. Check children and pets for ticks, also.
If you find a tick on yourself, your child or your pet:
• Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
• 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.
• After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
• Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
• It is important to remember that a tick must stay attached to a person for more than 36 – 48 hours to transmit the Babesia parasite.
• Avoid folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin.
Health officials also recommend if you find a tick, place it in a sealed container with a slightly damp (with water, not alcohol) piece of paper towel. You may take the tick to the Rutgers Cooperative Extension located at 1623 Whitesville Road, (at the corner of Whitesville Road and Sunset Avenue), Toms River, to be identified. Tick experts are available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday to identify ticks. If the tick is identified as a deer or black-legged tick, the staff will make recommendations according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Rutgers Extension also has a listing of labs that the tick can be sent to for testing.
More information on ticks, and preventing tick bites can be obtained by calling the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Office at 732-349-1246, or visit the Extension Office website at http://ocean.njaes.rutgers.edu or by visiting the Ocean County Health Department website at www.ochd.org. [TLS]