Posted by Bill Sandweg on 04 September 2023.
As our climate changes, biological threats that were never a concern may become very concerning in your area. One example is the occurrence of multiple cases of malaria spread by certain mosquitos in Florida, Texas and Maryland. The disease, which had been eradicated in the United States by 1951 is making a comeback. Today, however, I want to talk about the humble tick.
This is an image of the tick that carries Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF). It is the American dog tick. It would be nice if the tick were this large and this easy to see. In fact, an adult is about the size of a sesame seed. When it is swollen with blood, it can expand to the size of a small olive. Larvae and nymphs of the tick are even smaller.
If the tick bites a person or animal infected with the bacterium that causes the disease, it passes it along to the next person or animal it feeds on. The tick feeds on animals in the wild, but when temperatures are high and the weather is dry, they prefer to feed on humans. Dogs, especially dogs that are allowed to run around outside, are a fairly common way for the tick to be introduced to a human host. There have been a number of cases of RMSF on the Indian reservations of the southwest, where dogs are often allowed to roam freely. There have also been a number of cases reported in villages in Northern Mexico. Both of these areas are uncomfortably close to the major metropolitan areas of Arizona.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a deadly bacterial disease. In addition to being potentially fatal, if left untreated, it can cause severe damage to blood vessels and result in amputations, hearing loss and mental disability. There are antibiotics which can successfully treat it but they need to be administered early in the course of the disease.
The symptoms of RMSF are similar to those of many other conditions. Among them are fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and muscle pain. The disease often causes a rash, but the rash doesn’t usually show up until the disease process is advanced. See your health care provider, if you develop any of these symptoms after being in areas where ticks are found. This is especially true, if you have evidence that you have been bitten by a tick.
The most important way to protect against RMSF is to avoid places ticks are found. They like grassy and forested areas. There are many ticks in the forests of Northern and Central Arizona. They live in our desert areas as well. If you are going camping, treat your clothes with permethrin. You can also use topical repellant on your person. Check your dog for ticks when you return from a walk in the woods or the desert. If your cat is a sometimes outdoor cat, check it for ticks as well. You can purchase a tick collar for your pets. Check yourself for ticks when you come back from an area where ticks live. A shower will wash off ticks that have not yet attached to your body. Put your clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any ticks which may be hiding in them. Check your backpack, daypack or any other item that you are bringing into the house after being in the woods or desert.
We live in a wonderful part of the world but no place is free from all risks. Take some common sense precautions and you and your family should be safe from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and from other tick borne diseases as well.