As the weather has warmed up, many people are ready to go outside and enjoy summer activities. However, with an increase in time spent outdoors comes an increase in the possibility of making an unwanted friend.
“It is very easy for that little tick to get on you,” said environmental health specialist John Orr. “You would not even notice it. It could feed and drop off, and you would not even know that it had been there, because it is so small.”
Health officials said the number of illnesses from tick bites has more than tripled in the U.S. between 2004 and 2016. Of tickborne illnesses, Lyme Disease is the most commonly reported in Virginia.
“Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection,” Orr explained. “It is transmitted by ticks. In our area, the tick that transmits it is known as the deer tick, or black-legged tick. They are really active. The nymphs of that tick are active this time of year, so this is a good time to be on the lookout.”
There were 214 human cases reported in Fairfax County in 2016, and 178 cases in 2017. The most important key to bringing these numbers down, experts said, is prevention.
County health officials offered some important tips to help ticks from getting on you this summer. Some of the basics include wearing long sleeves when going outside, and making sure you wear higher socks with your sneakers. In this case, experts advise you to emphasize safety over fashion.
“When you are out in the woods, stick to the trails,” Orr said. “Ticks like to climb up on the vegetation, and it is really when you brush up against vegetation that they are getting up on your body and they are looking for a place to feed.”
“So if you walk down the center of the trail, you are less likely to pick up ticks doing that. There are also some repellents that are effective at keeping ticks off you.”
Bryant Bullock, another health specialist who works with Lyme Disease classification, stresses the importance of prevention methods. His daughter contracted the disease when she was seven years old.
“She said the back of her head was itching, so I looked back there and immediately saw what I suspected to be a deer tick embedded behind her ear,” Bullock explained. “I removed that tick, and unfortunately, dropped it into the gravel, because normally I would keep that tick to have it identified later to figure out what diseases she might have been exposed to.”
“Unfortunately, I did not keep the tick. About three days later, my daughter developed a headache and fever, and also neck pain.”
Those are all classic signs of the onset of the disease. In short, officials said situations like these could be prevented if the community is more informed on ways to prevent these bites, and to keep these critters from ticking you off.
“They have survived a long time by being sneaky, and not by being noticed easily,” Orr said. “This is what they do – so try and turn things in your favor by doing those tick checks regularly.”