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FOR RELEASE: June 15, 2007
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Health Officials Offer Tips to Prevent Tickborne Illness

Each year, Oklahoma consistently ranks among those states with the highest numbers of tickborne illnesses, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), ehrlichiosis, and tularemia. In 2006, 183 cases of tickborne illnesses were reported to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Thus far in 2007, 35 cases of tickborne illness have been reported in the state. The Oklahoma State Department of Health advises persons who participate in outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, bicycle trail riding, horseback riding, yard work or gardening, etc., to follow tick bite prevention precautions.

Ticks are widespread throughout the state, but they are especially prevalent in the wooded eastern half of Oklahoma. Most tickborne infections in Oklahoma are the result of a bite from the American dog tick or the Lone star tick.

Symptoms of a tickborne illness may include fever, headache (often severe), muscle aches, skin rash, vomiting, abdominal pain, and in the case of tularemia, swelling of the lymph node in the area of the tick bite. Tickborne diseases can be treated with appropriate antibiotics.

RMSF is the most commonly occurring tickborne illness in the state, with 133 cases reported in 2006. Both RMSF and ehrlichiosis can be fatal if not treated. Three deaths were attributed to ehrlichiosis in 2006; no deaths were due to RMSF.

Although the incidence of Lyme disease in Oklahoma and other southern states is very low, physicians in this part of the country have reported patients with symptoms that resemble Lyme disease, including the appearance of a “bulls-eye” type rash, yet results from laboratory tests are negative. This illness may be Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness, or STARI, which has been associated with the bite of the Lone star tick.

When participating in outdoor activities this summer, the Oklahoma State Department of Health recommends following these simple personal tick bite prevention precautions:

  • Wear light-colored clothing to make ticks easier to see.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into socks to deprive ticks of attachment sites.
  • Wear closed-toe shoes, not sandals.
  • Hikers and bikers should stay in the center of trails to avoid grass and brush.
  • Check for ticks at least once per day, particularly along waistbands, in the armpits and groin area.
  • Use a tick repellent with DEET on skin and clothing according to directions.
  • Use a tick repellent with permethrin on clothing only and according to directions.

If you do find a tick attached, remove as outlined below. Use the same procedure when removing ticks from your animals.

  • Use tweezers, or fingers wrapped in tissue, to grasp the tick as close to the surface of the skin as possible. Try not to twist or jerk the tick as you pull.
  • Use gentle, steady pressure to pull the tick from the skin.
  • Do not squeeze the body of the tick at any time while it is attached – you can release disease-causing organisms into the bite wound.
  • Do not squeeze the body of the tick to kill it after it has been removed – you can force disease-causing organisms out of the tick and onto/into your skin.
  • Do not use matches, gasoline or nail polish remover as methods of tick removal.
  • Note the date of tick removal on your calendar.
  • Wash clothing and inspect your body for additional ticks – don't forget the back and the scalp!

If you experience high fever, headache, tiredness, muscle aches, or a rash within 14 days after a tick bite, or if you have not noticed a tick bite but have been outdoors and have these symptoms, contact your physician immediately. For more information about tickborne illnesses, visit http://www.health.state.ok.us/program/cdd/tbi.html.

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