It is important to know about ticks for several reasons. They can carry Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and may cause further infection if their mouthparts break off when the ticks are removed.
The three species of ticks throughout Georgia that commonly feed on humans are the lone star tick, American dog tick and black-legged tick.
The lone star tick has unusually long mouthparts. The female has a single white spot in the middle of her back, while the white markings on the male are diffuse. Common large hosts are livestock, dogs, deer and humans, as well as smaller hosts such as birds and rodents.
The American dog tick has shorter mouthparts. Both the male and female have diffuse white markings on the back. The dog is the preferred host, but the tick will feed on a variety of large animals, including humans.
The black-legged tick is smaller than the other two ticks and has no white markings on the back. This tick is common on white-tailed deer, dogs, birds, humans and other large mammals plus a variety of small rodents.
Lyme disease was first reported in Georgia in 1987. The black-legged tick seems to be the major vector, especially in the nymphal stage. Its small size, one-sixteenth of an inch, probably contributes to failure to detect the nymph while feeding.
The initial sign of infection with Lyme disease is a ring-like swollen rash, known as erythema migrans, at the site of the tick bite three to 22 days following the bite of an infected tick.
There is usually a bright red outer ring with the center of the rash being lighter.
The rash is frequently accompanied by flu-like symptoms (fever, headache, stiff neck, muscle pain and sometimes nausea) and joint pain.
While the rash is very helpful in diagnosis, not all cases develop a rash.
There is a blood test to help confirm the disease. It needs to be taken three to six weeks after symptoms develop.
To my knowledge, no deaths have been reported due to initial infection, though complications may affect the life-span of some individuals. Personal protection and early diagnosis and treatment are your best defense against Lyme disease.
The second important tick-borne disease is Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It is characterized by a sudden onset of chills, fever, headache and bloodshot eyes.
The name "spotted fever" refers to the rash that appears two or four days after the onset of fever. The rash characteristically starts on the hands and feet and gradually spreads to most of the body. It is easily misdiagnosed as measles. Diagnosis is aided by a history of a recent tick bite and confirmed by a blood test. The American dog tick and lone star tick are the major vectors.
The best way to avoid tick bites when on wooded trails, in high grass or brush areas is to take some personal precautions.
Wear long pants.
Use a repellent labeled for ticks.
Check yourself for ticks at least twice a day. There is evidence that the longer an infected tick feeds, the greater the chance it has of transmitting a disease to you. Early removal is good prevention.
Around your home you can treat your dog with an approved pesticide for ticks, keep the grass cut short, fence the yard to keep out other dogs that bring ticks in and use an approved pesticide in the yard, if needed, to reduce tick populations.
Georgia is blessed with beautiful outdoor recreation areas that its citizens should continue to enjoy. Taking a few precautions and being aware of the symptoms of Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever should give you good protection against ticks.
Clark Beusse is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442