Richard P. Holm, MD
When we say “tick” in the clinic, we’re not talking about unusual twitches or the recurring beat of a clock. Usually tick-talk is about a group of small bloodsucking and disease-spreading bugs. Ticks are cousins to spiders, mites, and scorpions, and these buggers are NOT insects. Insects have three segments to their bodies and six legs, while ticks have fused bodies with two segments and eight legs. Ticks are distinguished by how they grab onto passing animals and climb upwards to find a dark quiet spot to suck their victim’s blood. Common carriers of ticks are mice, squirrels, cats, dogs, and deer.
Entomologists estimate that ticks evolved into blood-feeding parasites about 120 million years ago; 3500 years ago, tick fever was described by Egyptians, and 2500 years ago, Homer wrote about ticks on Ulysses’ dog. These they are found throughout the world, especially in warm and humid climates. Ticks require a blood meal, and, be warned, most illnesses are spread by these tiny, smaller than a sesame seed, bugs.
Ticks carry various infectious diseases[i] which they inject into animals and humans. Every year, more than 40,000 cases of tick-borne illness is reported in people in the U.S., but the CDC estimates that ten times that number of cases go unreported. The worse news is that ticks are expanding their territories and the number of diseases they spread are increasing. In our part of the country, we have the American dog tick (often incorrectly called the wood tick) which carries Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Tularemia. In Minnesota and Wisconsin the blacklegged tick carries Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and babesiosis. In the Black Hills, Colorado, and Montana the Rocky Mountain wood tick carries Colorado tick fever.
We encourage outside activity, but preventative measures should be taken whenever going outside into grass, weeds, garden, or woods. In the spring and summer, tuck pants into socks so the buggers can’t climb up into private areas; apply tick repellant on lower clothing; and check for ticks at the end of the day. Remove these suckers with tweezers, pinching as closely to the point of attachment as possible and gently pulling until she lets go, while avoiding squeezing the body of the tick. Antibiotics should be started if any rash, fever, or illness follows a tick bite.
Spring is coming soon, so be prepared for a tick attack.