Spring brings with it warm weather, beautiful scenery and wonderful outdoor activities that we look forward to during the cold winter months. However, Spring also means Tick Season which brings with it the various diseases that they may be carrying, including the dangerous, sometimes fatal Powassan Virus Disease (POW).
The Powassan Virus is most prevalent in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions of the United States (including Ohio) and is passed to humans through a bite from an infected tick. What makes POW so dangerous is that it causes encephalitis and meningitis and there is no known specific treatment or cure for it. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, loss of memory, headache, weakness, loss of coordination, difficulty with speech and seizures, however, many people who are infected do not show any symptoms. Although it is still rare (60 cases in 10 years), the number of reported cases has been increasing.
There are several other tick borne diseases out there that affect not only humans, but our pets as well. Anyone works outside in tall grasses or wooded areas, anyone who goes hiking or camping should be particularly careful, but care should also be taken with children and animals that are playing in their own backyards.
So what can we do to protect ourselves and our pets from these very sneaky hitchhickers while still enjoying the outdoors? Wear protective clothing, such as hiking boots, long pants, socks, and a hat and keep long hair pulled up. Use repellants that contain 20-30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing. Talk to your veterinarian about flea and tick preventatives. If you take your dog hiking or camping, talk to your vet about vaccinating your dog for Lyme disease and other tick borne diseases. When hiking, stay near the center of the trail. Reduce the risk of creating tick habitat in your yard by keeping your lawn mowed. Check your clothes and gear, including pant cuffs and seams. Perform regular, fully body tick checks on yourselves, kids and pets. Pay particular attention to hair, around ears, armpits and the inside of legs and shower or bathe within two hours of coming inside. You can also put your clothes in the dryer on high heat for an hour in order to kill any ticks that you may have been missed (they're tiny and sneaky).
What do you do if you find a tick on you or your pets? Stay calm. Without twisting or jerking the tick, in an upward motion, slowly pull it off using a pair of tweezers or a tick removal product (found in many stores and websites) ensuring that you remove the entire tick, including all of the mouth parts which can break off during removal. Thoroughly clean the bite area and kill the tick by placing it in alcohol and sealing it in a jar, plastic bag, tape or flush it, but never crush it. By keeping it rather than flushing it, you can take it with you to a doctor or vet so that they can identify the type of tick and know what diseases to look for if necessary.
Ticks are no reason to fear the outdoors, you just have to take precautions like you would with other outdoor pests. So go, have fun, and enjoy the Spring and Summer weather while we have it!
- CBS New York
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Powassan (POW) Virus Disease by Beth Rankin, Regional Safety Manager for the U.S. Forest Service