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Protect against tick bites this season

By Unknown | health | July 02, 2013

Story by: Chanel Weaver, USAPHC

Civilian administrative furloughs are not the only side effect of sequestration. Individuals living and working at Installation Management Command installations may notice the grass is a little higher than normal in some areas.

Army operation and maintenance accounts have been reduced, and, as a result, mowing operations also have been reduced at many posts.

What represents a lessened workload for public works employees, creates abundant employment for some on-post residents – the ones with eight legs and the potential to cause serious human and animal disease.

Ticks can thrive in long grasses, according to Ellen Stromdahl, entomologist, U.S. Army Public Health Command, who manages the Department of Defense's Human Tick Test Kit program.

Although most ticks are not infected with human diseases, some ticks in the U.S. can carry diseases, like Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and viral diseases.

Infected ticks have to attach to a person and remain on that individual for a long period of time – one to three days – in order to transmit most diseases, Stromdahl said.

One of the first things people can do to prevent a tick bite is to recognize tick habitat and avoid it.

"Ticks stay in, or on the edge of, shady, brushy areas," Stromdahl said. "You can find them in tall grass, especially in wooded areas. They need layered shade and moist air."

Stromdahl also recommends the use of insect repellent to prevent tick bites.

"For maximum protection, use DEET repellent on your skin and permethrin repellent on your clothing," he said. "Permethrin-treated clothing is the best defense against tick bites. When ticks touch the treated fabric, they try to get away as quickly as possible. If they stay on the treated fabric, they die."

Permethrin clothing spray can be found in hunting sections of stores, and permethrin-treated clothing is available from major outdoor clothing suppliers.

Another step to preventing tick bites involves checking belongings.

"If you have been in tick habitat, leave your shoes outside and don't leave your clothes near your bed," he said. "You'll be giving ticks the whole night to find you. Ticks may survive on clothes in the washing machine, but a hot cycle in the dryer will kill ticks."

Stromdahl also recommends bathing or showering as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off, which helps find ticks crawling on the body more easily.

Army preventive medicine experts say prompt removal of a tick is one way to reduce risk of disease transmission.

"When patients locate an engorged tick on them, they should not panic and should take their time to remove the tick properly," said Staff Sgt. Arvey Jones, noncommissioned officer in charge, preventive medicine section, Kirk Army Clinic, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. "If you remove attached ticks promptly, you can prevent tick-borne disease."

In order to remove a tick, Stromdahl recommends certain guidelines.

"Remove the tick with tweezers," Stromdahl said. "Do not burn it or use soap, gasoline, Vaseline or other chemicals. Once the tick is removed, thoroughly cleanse the bite with alcohol and apply antibiotic ointment to the bite."

Most tick bites cause irritation and itching immediately, but Stromdahl said this does not indicate disease transmission.

Stromdahl said ticks that have been removed from people should be saved for identification and testing. Military personnel and DoD civilians should place the tick in a jar or plastic bag and take it to the local military medical treatment facility. The medical treatment facility will forward the tick to the U.S. Army Public Health Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

USAPHC will identify the ticks and then perform disease testing of the tick through the DoD Human Tick Test Kit program. The results of identification will be reported to the submitting medical treatment facility upon receipt of the tick, and test results – negative and positive – will be reported within a week.

For more information on ticks and preventing tick bites, visit U.S. Army Public Health Command's DoD Human Tick Test Kit Program at http://phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/envirohealth/epm/Pages/HumanTickTestKit-Program.aspx; Environmental Protection Agency at http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect/; University of Rhode Island at www.tickencounter.org/; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/ticks/ or the Physician's Reference Manual from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/lyme/resources/TickborneDiseases.pdf.

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