Authorities are warning the public to be on their guard against ticks.
It’s May and the sun is finally shining. It seems tempting to don a pair of shorts and a T-shirt and run outside, but remember: you’re not the only one who’s glad the weather’s warming up. So are the ticks.
Thanks to a number of factors—significant increases in wildlife populations, expanded ranges of some tick species, development of housing in rural areas and the popularity of hiking and ecotourism—ticks have grown from an annoyance to a major health hazard. Lyme disease, a bacterial infection transmitted through the bite of an infected tick, is one of the fastest growing infectious diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Approximately 25,000 people across the nation contact Lyme disease every month, and a quarter of them are between the ages of five and 14.
The infection’s symptoms include fatigue, sleep disturbance, poor memory and concentration, headaches, sleep disturbances, lightheadedness, irritability, chest pain, joint pain, fibromyalgia and paresthesias.
But this is not news to Nick Risden, owner of K9 Motivations and Von Risden Haus German Shepherds, in Salvisa.
After a single tick bite last April, Risden has been battling a host of ailments, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and meningitis. After spending the past year travelling for treatment in Washington, D.C., Risden said he’s finally on the mend.
“I’m slowly getting back pieces of my life,” he said Tuesday.
Risden says things are “just not the same” as when he grew up.
“You picked ticks off you,” he recalled. “It was no big deal.”
Not only has the number of ticks exploded in the United States in recent years, thanks to global trade and travel, so have the number of different species of ticks. In February, Haemaphysalis longicornis, an East Asia species that carries hemorrhagic fever, was discovered in New Jersey.
In addition to his other illnesses, Risden is one of 75 Kentuckians to have ever been diagnosed with Powassan virus, which causes swelling of the brain that can lead to severe neurological damage.
The tick bite has left Risden with “post-traumatic stress disorder.” He said he mows his grass constantly and does not go outside unless he’s wearing clothing that’s been treated with tick repellant.
He also recommends people seek medical treatment after tick bites. He said most people tend to wait until the Lyme disease’s telltale bulls-eye rash appears before visiting a doctor. But Risden, like half of all people who contact the disease, never developed any rash.
“It’s scary,” Risden said. “Most doctors in Kentucky don’t know how to recognize it.”
As a result, he recommends anyone who’s been bitten by a tick to ask for antibiotics to ward off any possible infection. He also recommends everyone wear clothing treated with tick-repellant. Risden himself does not use DEET, he uses essential oils and Skin So Soft.
“I have a problem detoxing,” he said.
At Risden’s small farm in Salvisa, he has also begun raising livestock like chickens, ducks and guineafowl, which eat ticks.
But the best weapon is to be alert, he said. Check for ticks and if bitten, seek treatment.
“Don’t wait and see,” Risden said.
The CDC has released the following guidelines for staying tick-free this summer:
- Wear repellent on your bare skin or wear clothes that have repellent built-in.
- Check for ticks at the end of each day.
- Take a shower too! It will help wash off the ticks you can’t see.
- Change clothes. Don’t put on your old clothes that might have ticks still crawling on them.
- Avoid taking short cuts through thick brush and grass.
- Make sure that the repellent contains at least 20-percent of the active ingredient like DEET.
- Parents should help younger kids apply repellent and keep it away from eyes, mouth and hands.
For more information about preventing tick bites, visit the CDC at www.cdc.gov/ticks/index.html.
To learn more, check out this week’s issue of the Harrodsburg Herald.