The recent death of a female Missouri state park system employee from a rather recently found and rare tick-borne illness caused many Midwesterners to perk up their ears during yet another summer tick season.
University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener Coordinator Nancy Kuhajda says that “despite a rather wet spring, there has been no ‘uptick’ of tick sightings or troubles thus far this year in Will County.” But at the same time, it is important to be educated about ticks, and not to confuse them with similar related pests and insects.
The Bourbon virus was found in 2014 at a University of Kansas Hospital. This past spring, Tamela Wilson, a ten-year veteran of Missouri’s Meramec State Park, removed two ticks from her body and thought of it as just a routine thing. But she soon experienced a variety of symptoms of the Bourbon virus (which include fever, fatigue, rash, headaches, and body aches), and was too weak to even answer her phone. She died June 23rd after becoming only the fifth confirmed case of Bourbon Virus.
Dr. Jennifer Byrd, Chief Medical Office for the Will County Health Department’s Community Health Center, points out that in reality the Bourbon virus “is not actually a new virus.” But more a case of an “insect vector virus that intermittently reoccurs.”
Dr. Byrd also mentioned that “there is no prophylactic medication for the Bourbon virus,” and that “prevention of insect bites is the mainstay of prevention with this virus.” She recommends a trip to the Community Health Center’s summary page on the Bourbon virus at https://www.cdc.gov/ncezid/dvbd/bourbon.index.html.
While ticks are often seen as a routine “pest of the summer,” rare cases like Wilson’s death are a strong reminder that tick bites, and prevention of tick bites, should be taken very seriously. Kuhadja says that according to the State of Illinois Entomologist, the good news is that there have been no identified cases of the Bourbon virus in Illinois to date. And in addition, although Lyme Disease cases in Illinois have significantly gone up over the last two decades (35 in 2000, 287 in 2015), the type of tick that carries it, the Deer (or Black Legged) Tick, is being seen less often in Will County.
Kuhajda says the samples that have been submitted to the Will County Extension Office more often show the American Dog or Lonestar Tick these days, which is known to carry the disease Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Kuhajda also says we must remember that ticks do not fly or jump, but are “hitchhikers” that will “try to attach to a warm-blooded animal when they make contact with high grass, vegetation, or trees.”
This is also where it must be remembered to not confuse ticks with other pesky skin creatures, such as chiggers. This confusion can often cause the wrong remedy to be used in trying to eliminate them. While ticks will attach their mouthparts to the skin and suck blood; chiggers secrete an enzyme breaks the skin down, causing irritation and an itch. Chiggers also often appear in the waistband or armpit areas.
Kuhajda says that while common home remedies to get rid of chiggers often involve covering them with vasoline or nail polish, that is absolutely the last thing you want to do if you have ticks. “Covering ticks like that will cause them to penetrate even deeper underneath your skin,” Kuhajda explained. “Then, it just makes the problem worse.”
Kuhajda added that the best way to envision a tick is to think of a pair of plyers. “If you take a pair of tweezers and grab the tick behind the neck, the mouth will automatically open, and you can slowly remove the tick,” said Kuhajda.
In the University of Illinois Home, Yard, and Garden Newsletter; Phil Nixon added that prevention while being in the wooded and tall grass areas is very important. He stated that both hikers and landscapers “should protect themselves from ticks with repellent containing DEET or picaridin, which are sold in major brands such as Off and Cutter. Lemongrass oil repellent is also sold as EcoSmart Insect Repellent.” Nixon concluded that these types of repellents usually last over an hour per application, and that those containing 20 to 30 percent DEET are the most effective.
DuPage County Health Department Public Information Officer Don Bolger, who has produced a series of educational tick videos called TICK TUESDAY (available at www.willcountyhealth.org), says that checking the clothes periodically while out in wooded or grassy areas is very important. “The ticks can be on your clothes a long time before they attach to your skin. It’s very important to especially check those areas where they might be exploring, such as where the shirt is open or perhaps crawling up the pants leg. We also need to remember that the repellent with DEET can be, and should be, applied to our clothes as well.”
Episode four of the TICK TUESDAY series, focusing upon pets, reminded everyone that ticks on pets should be removed by using tweezers just like when removing them from humans. Veterinarian Dr. Barbara Hanek stated that while hiking with a dog, it is recommended that you stay on the trail, and use a leash that will help you do so. To examine a dog for ticks, it is good to start at the nose and work towards the tail; focusing on key vascular areas such as the ears, the tummy, between the toes, and the armpit and groin areas.
Meanwhile, Kuhajda says that in addition to wearing long sleeves and long pants in heavily wooded areas and using the proper repellents, Will County residents are also encouraged to bring in any ticks they have found for identification to the U of I Extension Will County Office at 100 Manhattan Road in Joliet. Residents are welcome to call 1-815-727-9296, or to e-mail Kuhajda at firstname.lastname@example.org.