FALLS CHURCH, Virginia –
Is your family planning to spend more time outdoors this summer? As the weather gets warmer, keep ticks in mind. Since ticks are more active as temperatures rise, the chances of finding a tick on you, your family members, or pets increase in the summer months.
Lyme disease is one of the most widely known illnesses associated with ticks. Health care providers diagnose and treat an estimated 476,000 Americans for Lyme disease each year, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Learn simple steps you can take to protect yourself from ticks.
Know what ticks look like. Learn which tick species live in your region and in places where you travel. Blacklegged ticks and western blacklegged ticks spread Lyme disease. According to the CDC, adult blacklegged ticks are typically the size of a sesame seed.
Know where to expect ticks. Ticks live in grassy, brushy, and wooded areas, and on animals. Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. If you’re in the woods, walk in the center of trails. Activities like camping, hiking, and hunting can bring you in close contact with ticks, but so can activities like walking your dog, gardening, and spending time in your own yard or neighborhood.
Protect your body before going outdoors. Cover your skin and scalp by wearing a hat, long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and socks, especially in grassy, brushy, and wooded areas. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends using insect repellent to discourage ticks from landing on you and biting you. Learn how to use insect repellent safely and effectively before applying it to yourself or family members.
Check your body for ticks after being outdoors. After working or playing in the yard, check your clothes and body for ticks. Key parts of the body to check include:
- Under the arms
- In and around the ears
- Inside the belly button
- Back of the knees
- In and around the hair
Showering may help wash off unattached ticks and reduce your risk of getting tick-borne diseases, so shower soon after being outdoors. If you find a tick attached to your skin, the CDC recommends removing the tick with a pair of clean, fine-tipped tweezers. After removing the tick, you should thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands. Never crush a tick with your fingers. To dispose of a live tick, flush it down the toilet or place it in a secure container. You can also submit the tick to MilTICK for free tick testing and identification.
Your pets can also harbor ticks, so don’t forget to carefully examine your furry friends after they’ve been outside.
Learn the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease. Seek medical attention if you have any Lyme disease symptoms and have noticed a tick bite, live in an area known for Lyme disease, or have recently traveled to an area where the disease occurs. Symptoms include:
- Bullseye-shaped bite mark
- Muscle or joint aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
“In most cases, a tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted,” says the CDC. If you remove the tick within 24 hours, you can greatly reduce your chances of getting Lyme disease.
A Lyme disease diagnosis requires a positive blood test. TRICARE covers these tests when they’re ordered by a TRICARE-authorized provider. If Lyme disease is diagnosed early, your doctor may treat you with a standard round of antibiotics. If a Lyme infection is left untreated, you may need more intensive courses of medication.
Lyme isn’t the only disease spread by ticks, so it’s good to know which diseases are spread by ticks where you live and travel. According to the CDC, babesiosis cases have significantly increased in the northeastern United States. As with Lyme, the best way to prevent babesiosis is to take simple steps to reduce your exposure to ticks.
If you need medical advice or care, the Military Health System Nurse Advice Line is a 24/7 resource. Also, understand your urgent care and emergency care options.
Take care of yourself and your family this summer by avoiding bug-borne illnesses. For more tips on preventing bug bites and treating bug-borne illnesses, visit Bug Week.
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