JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Over the past 20 years Missouri has seen an increase in the number of tick-borne disease cases said Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Chief of Public Information Megan Hopkins.
“Based on past tick surveys, Lone Star ticks are the most common tick across the state,” Hopkins said. “They can spread many diseases including ehrlichiosis, tularemia and Heartland virus.”
Within recent years, the Lone Star tick has additionally been associated with rare cases of a sudden, lifelong allergy to red meat. The Mayo Clinic said once an individual is infected with the alpha-gal allergy, a reaction could occur several hours after consuming beef, pork or lamb. Symptoms could include hives, swelling of lips and anaphylactic shock.
Other ticks can spread diseases such as powassan virus and 364D rickettsiosis. However, not every tick who carries a virus can make an individual sick, Hopkins explained. Ticks do not spread viruses with every bite.
“The most common tick-borne diseases in Missouri are ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever,” Hopkins said. “Both of these can cause flu-like symptoms. Symptoms to watch for include fever, chills, headache, body aches, fatigue and sometimes a rash.”
The Department of Health and Senior Services has also reported cases of tularemia, Lyme disease, Heartland virus and Bourbon virus in Missouri. Similar to ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, other tick-borne diseases can cause flu-like symptoms, Hopkins said.
Despite this information, Hopkins said not to let concern over tick-borne diseases keep you from enjoying your summer outdoors. She recommended a few simple steps to help avoid tick bites and diseases though.
“Avoid tick habitat, such as areas with brush, tall grass and leaf litter, as much as possible,” Hopkins said. “Although ticks can be found elsewhere, like your own backyard, these are the most likely places to encounter large numbers of ticks.”
Hopkins said to also consider wearing long sleeves and pants to keep ticks from making contact with your skin. Tuck long pants into socks or boots to further “reduce the amount of exposed skin.”
Prior to adventuring outside, Hopkins said there are two repellent routes she would suggest. The first option is to apply repellent containing 20 percent or more of DEET, picaridin or IR3535 to exposed skin and clothing. The second option is to purchase products with permethrin.
“If you spend a lot of time outdoors, consider treating clothing and gear with a product called permethrin,” Hopkins said. “Permethrin comes in many formulations, so be sure to look for one that is specifically intended to be used on clothing, boots and other outdoor gear.”
Before using any tick repellent, Hopkins reminds individuals to read all label directions carefully and apply accordingly. She said if a tick does attach itself to the skin remove it as soon as possible by grasping the tick’s head with tweezers, forceps or fingers.
“With slow, steady pressure, pull straight out without twisting or jerking the tick,” Hopkins explained. “(Then) wash the bite site with soap and water.”
For more information on tick-borne diseases, visit the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services website.