Dog ticks (middle) are the usual carriers of Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever, the main tick-borne disease in Kentucky, has affected scores of people in the area served by the Elizabethtown-based Lincoln Trail District Health Department.
The six-county department “has investigated a total 79 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever for June in the district, which comprises Hardin, Meade, LaRue, Nelson, Washington and Marion counties,” Mary Alford reports for The News-Enterprise in Elizabethtown.
In Grayson County, which is in the Lincoln Trail Area Development District but has a separate health department, 26 cases were reported from July 7 to 17. All the numbers are subject to confirmation by the Kentucky Department for Public Health. In a typical year, the entire state has 10 to 30 cases, Grayson Brown, director of the University of Kentucky Public Health Entomology Laboratory, told Kentucky Health News as the summer tick season began.
“Reports of tick-borne illnesses that make it to the health department stem from people with a known tick bite who go to the doctor, exhibiting symptoms such as fever, rash, headaches, muscle aches and tiredness, and are tested for Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and other ailments,”Alford reports. The district health department has also found a few cases of tick-borne Lyme disease.
How can you protect yourself from these diseases, which can be debilitating and in rare cases fatal? Use insect repellents, shower soon after being outdoors, and check for ticks daily, especially in hard-to-see places, Rebecca Morris writes for The Record in Grayson County, citing material from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web page about ticks.
CDC recommends “a full body check upon return from potentially tick-infested areas,” Alford writes. “Ticks most commonly attach around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and especially in and around the hair. To remove a tick, people should use tweezers to grab the tick close to the skin and gently pull on the arachnid with steady pressure, and wash hands and the bite site with soap and water after the tick is removed. Also, apply an antiseptic to the bite.”
Other tips, from UK’s Brown:
- Check your pets.
- Keep grass and shrubs trimmed, and clear overgrown vegetation in your yard.
- Don’t walk through uncut fields, brush and overgrown areas.
- Walk in the center of hiking trails.
- Wear light-colored clothes, which make it easier to spot ticks.
- Wear long pants tucked into boots or socks, and tuck your shirt into your pants.
- Place a band of duct tape, sticky side out, around your lower legs to trap ticks.
- Use tick repellent that has DEET or picaridin, or use permethrin-based clothing sprays.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever “can take three to 12 days to incubate,” Morris notes. “Initial symptoms appear in one to four days, and include a high fever, severe headache, swelling around the eyes and on the backs of the hands, nausea and vomiting.” The spotted rash usually appears two to five days after initial symptoms, but 10 percent of victims never develop a rash.
“After five days without medical treatment, patients can have altered mental states, lapse into a coma, develop respiratory problems or even have organ failure,” Morris writes, citing the CDC. The disease “can lead to death if patients aren’t treated early.”