The county veterinarians schedule an annual rabies vaccination event held at the fire departments to coincide with the beginning of the traditional hunting season. This is also a good time to remind you about ticks. The summer represents the peak season to encounter ticks but actually any time the temperature is above freezing, they become active.
If you are hunting or moving through high grass, wear long sleeves and have the pants tucked into the footwear. Treating the clothes with an insecticide called permethrin is effective. After returning, one should shower. If you find a tick on you, remove it with tweezers or tissue by squeezing and gently pulling up and then washing the hands and site with soap and water. The key to remember though is that only about 20 percent of the reported tick bites are associated with someone actually viewing the tick.
Most tick-borne illnesses are characterized by flu-like symptoms — fever, headache, muscle aches and joint pains — and a rash. Prompt medical treatment helps alleviate the symptoms and prevent long-term effects as well as more serious illness.
North Carolina is home to ticks that cause most of the illnesses not associated with the West Coast. A few of these major ones are:
— Ehrlichiosis, which is caused by the lone star tick.
— Lyme disease, which is transmitted by the blacklegged tick, but it is far more common in the northeast United States down to Virginia.
— Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which is transmitted by the American dog tick, brown tick and wood tick. North Carolina typically leads the nation in the reporting of this disease. It is also known as black measles.
— Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness, which is transmitted by the lone star tick.
Reports of these diseases vary from year to year but 2017 was expected to be a banner year due to the mild winter. Just looking at the national numbers for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, one sees it went from 424 cases in 1993 to 4,470 in 2012 — a tenfold increase. Some of this has to be because of better reporting by the providers, but also people infected are more likely to seek care as they become more knowledgeable on the subject. And the answer to the unasked question — yes, dogs and cats can get tick-borne diseases. Dogs in particularly are vulnerable to the same illnesses that affect humans with some of the same symptoms. Veterinarians should be consulted about a preventive plan for your pets.
Bill Smith is the director of the Robeson County Health Department.