Ticks can be more than just a pest

SALEM – ‘Tis the season for camping, days at the lake and outdoor activities, but local health officials say it’s also time to watch out for ticks and the disease risks they carry.

During a recent Salem City Health District board meeting, city Health Commissioner Richard Setty reported news from the Ohio Department of Health that includes Columbiana and Mahoning counties among the 24 counties where Lyme disease has become considered common or endemic.

An ODH memo noted that the blacklegged dick or deer tick which carries the disease has been found in 59 counties in Ohio. An ODH map showed the tick present in Mahoning County and established in Columbiana County.

“Surveillance by entomologists with the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and The Ohio State University has revealed a recent spread and increase of this tick in the state. This has been increased by a sharp increase in the number of human encounters reported to ODH,” the memo said.

According to the memo, Ohio had 93 reported cases of Lyme disease last year. The average for the prior 10 years from 2003 to 2012 was 51, so the numbers show it’s becoming more prevalent in the state.

Board member Judy Sicilia asked about the possibility for public education, with Setty showing a small card with photographs of ticks and useful information that could be reproduced, including how to remove a tick.

“There is a correct way and an incorrect way to remove them,” Setty said.

He explained that ticks will latch on to exposed skin. In Ohio, there are three kinds of ticks: the blacklegged tick, the lone star tick and the dog tick. Disease is caused by the bite of an infected tick. Infected animals and persons cannot pass the infection to another animal or person, according to an ODH fact sheet.

The fact sheet gave the following tips for tick removal, which should occur as soon as possible to reduce the risk of infection:

Shield fingers with a paper towel or use tweezers, grasping the tick close to the skin; with steady pressure, pull the tick straight up and out.

Do not twist or jerk the tick since this may cause the mouth parts to be left in the skin.

Do not crush or puncture the tick.

Do not use a flame or cigarette to remove a tick since it may cause the tick to burst and increase disease risk.

After removing a tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite site and wash hands with soap and water.

Dog owners should check their pets on a regular basis for ticks. Children should also be checked frequently. To avoid exposure to ticks, the ODH suggested wearing light-colored clothing to make ticks easier to see, avoiding tick-infested areas such as woods or weedy areas, wear long pants and tuck pants into socks or boots and use insect repellants.

Symptoms of Lyme disease can include a rash near the site of the bite and general flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue, stiff neck and joint or muscle pain, the ODH fact sheet said.

ODH sent a memo at the end of April to healthcare providers across the state regarding Lyme disease and reminding them that it’s a reportable disease. Suspected or confirmed cases should be reported to the local health department.

To learn more about ticks, Lyme disease and tick-borne diseases in Ohio, visit the ODH website at www.odh.ohio.gov.