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FOR RELEASE: November 15, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Outdoor Precautions Prevent Exposure to Serious Diseases

Thousands of hunters, campers and hikers have taken to the woods this fall to enjoy nature and sports. Officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) want to encourage safety while people are out among the wild animals and insects that could expose them to deadly diseases.

Hunters, fishermen, campers, and hikers have a greater risk of exposure to diseases transmitted by ticks and mosquitoes, many of which begin with flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, headache and body aches. However, symptoms can worsen quickly and affect various systems of the body.

Ticks are a serious problem in Oklahoma. If you are in an area with ticks, check your body carefully for them every few hours. Most ticks do not attach quickly and seldom transmit disease organisms until they have been attached four or more hours. Ticks can be small, easy to miss and will attach to any part of the body from head to toe, so look carefully. If an attached tick is found, the best way to remove it is by grasping it firmly with tweezers (or fingers covered by a tissue) as close to the skin as possible, and gently pull the tick straight out. The most important thing is to remove it as soon as possible.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and human Ehrlichiosis are spread by infected ticks and are prevalent diseases in Oklahoma. RMSF can cause a measles-like rash and can be fatal if not treated quickly. A rash is uncommon with Ehrlichiosis, but the Ehrlichia bacteria can cause fever, muscle aches, and a dangerous drop of white blood cells and platelets. It, too, can be deadly, if proper diagnosis and treatment is not received. Tularemia is a disease that is mainly transmitted by tick bites, but can also result from handling carcasses of infected wild rabbits, squirrels, or rodents. Although no deaths associated with these three diseases have been reported this year in Oklahoma, 29 cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, 6 cases of Ehrlichiosis, and 4 cases of Tularemia have been confirmed.

Encephalitis is an infection of the central nervous system that may be caused by one of several mosquito-borne viruses. Those who have more severe forms of the disease may have intense headache, high fever, nausea, muscle weakness, partial or nearly complete unconsciousness and even coma.

Additionally, hunters and trappers need to be aware that some wild game animals may be shedding the bacterium that causes Leptospirosis in the urine or kidneys. Time should be taken to wear rubber or latex gloves while field dressing wild animal carcasses.

Some other ways to protect against exposure to these outdoor diseases are:

  • Use insect repellent containing DEET or permethrin (follow package directions).
  • Stay on trails and avoid areas of overgrown brush and tall grasses as much as possible.
  • Wear protective clothing such as a hat, long-sleeved shirt and long pants tucked into boots or socks.
  • Wear light-colored clothes to easily spot ticks.
  • Hunters should wear gloves while field dressing or skinning deer, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, and feral hogs.
  • Take care to prevent knife injuries because they can easily become infected.
  • Do not skin or eat meat from animals that appeared sick, and thoroughly cook all game meat before eating.

To avoid the risk of waterborne diseases like leptospirosis, giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis, and E. coli O157, hunters, campers, and hikers should avoid drinking water directly from a spring, stream or lake, and instead carry bottled water or boil water taken from an outdoor water source before consuming.

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