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Tick-Borne Diseases

In May of 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an alarming report indicating that since 2004, vector-borne diseases have more than tripled. The report indicated that between 2004-2016, there were a total of 642,602 cases of 16 different diseases reported to them from mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas, and that number is likely the very least, as cases are generally underreported. What’s more is that the report quite plainly stated that 80% of government vector-control organizations lacked critical prevention and control capacities, and needed improvement in one or more core competencies, such as testing for pesticide resistance and standard surveillance.

Tick-borne diseases accounted for over 75% of the vector-borne diseases in the CDC report, and their instance more than doubled in that 13 year time period. The Palmetto State is home to four species of ticks capable of transferring diseases to humans while feeding: American Dog tick, Lone Star tick, Black-legged or "Deer” tick, and the Brown Dog tick.

According to recent reports, 24 states have newly documented populations of deer ticks, including the Carolinas. An increased deer tick population here means a very high chance of an increase in certain tick-borne diseases, primarily Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is caused by the black-legged tick (also known as the deer tick), and is most prevalent in the Northeast and Midwest. Of all the tick-borne illnesses in the CDC report, Lyme disease accounted for the majority — 82%, in fact. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans, or “bullseye rash." If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Luckily, most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics.

For now, the most common tick-borne diseases in South Carolina are erlichiosis and spotted fever rickettsiosis.

Ehrlichiosis is not a single disease, but an umbrella term for several different bacterial diseases. In humans, at least three different species of this bacteria occur. The main vector of ehrlichiosis tends to be the Lone Star tick, although the dog tick (or wood tick) and the deer tick (or the black-legged tick) have also been associated with it. Typical symptoms include: fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches. Ehrlichiosis can be very serious is not treated correctly. Unfortunately, it is difficult to diagnose because symptoms vary from patient to patient, but it can be confirmed with specialized lab tests. Once ehrlichiosis is suspected, treatment should start immediately. The antibiotic doxycycline is the first line treatment for adults and children of all ages. It is most effective at preventing severe complications from developing if it is started early in the course of disease.

Spotted fever rickettsiosis includes a handful of diseases caused by the spotted fever bacteria. The most common in the Palmetto State is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which is transmitted by the dog tick, the wood tick, and most commonly by the Lone Star tick. It can be fatal if not treated early. Unlike Lyme disease, it doesn’t take long for this infection to show symptoms. Usually after being bitten by an infected tick, symptoms manifest within a couple days. This disease gets its name from a rash that starts around the wrists and ankles and spreads throughout the body, but sometimes that’s not the first symptom to manifest. It could take a week for the rash to show, while in the meantime you’re experiencing other symptoms like fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, stomach and muscle pain, and lack of appetite. Like with ehrlichiosis, doxycycline is the most effective treatment for this disease.

Babesiosis is an infection of red blood cells and is transmitted by the deer tick. As with other vector-borne diseases, many people with Babesiosis feel fine and don’t have any symptoms at all. Some people develop flu-like symptoms like fever, chills, headaches, body aches, nausea, and fatigue. Because the this is an infection of red blood cells, Babesiosis can cause anemia. People who do not have signs or symptoms usually don’t need to be treated, but there is effective treatment for those who do. Generally, Babesiosis is not considered fatal, however it can be for people with compromised immune systems, those without spleens, a serious health condition like kidney disease, or are elderly.

Powassan virus is another one transmitted by the deer tick. It is very rare and most cases have occurred in the Northeast and Great Lakes region. Signs and symptoms of infection can include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, and memory loss. Long-term neurologic problems may occur. Like other vector-borne illnesses, there is no specific treatment, but people with severe cases often need to be hospitalized to receive respiratory support, intravenous fluids, or medications to reduce swelling in the brain, because it can be fatal.

The bottom line is that may seem like ticks aren’t a problem in the South, but that’s not true at all. Lyme disease isn’t as prevalent, but it is becoming increasingly more common as deer tick populations continue to rise. Ticks, in general, are just as common in the Palmetto State and for now, we’ve got different diseases to be concerned about here. What can you do to avoid ticks? Well, when you’re out and about in nature, always be mindful of your surroundings and wear long sleeves and pants that are ideally tucked into your socks. Ticks are frequently found in tall grassy areas, in wooded areas and seagrass of beaches.

But at home, they’re often found in woodpiles, tall grass, and really, anywhere that someone can brush up against. Their method for finding hosts is by hanging out on any of these areas with their legs outstretched, basically looking to “hitch a ride” on any unsuspecting passers-by. This behavior is called “questing.” Nobody wants to have to wear long sleeves and pants in their own yard in the middle of a South Carolina summer. Which is why the best way to avoid tick-borne diseases is to avoid ticks all together.

Mosquito Squad can’t protect you from all the ticks in the world, but we can definitely protect you from the ones in your own yard with our tick protection. Our dual-step tick control approach guarantees 90% fewer ticks on your property for up to three weeks straight, giving you much less worry of contracting a tick-borne disease. Call Mosquito Squad of Greater Charleston at 843-574-8919 to protect yourself and your loved ones from ticks, mosquitoes, and other biting bugs and the diseases that they carry. We look forward to helping you fight the bite and taking back your yard!

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