Warning: Check for ticks to prevent disease

(Graphics provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

As the weather becomes warmer and time outside increases, local and state agencies are reminding residents the importance of protecting against ticks and tick-borne illnesses.

Though tick exposure can occur year-round, ticks are most active during warmer months. In turn, it s easier to contract Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that spreads when an infected black-legged tick bites a person and remains attached for 36 hours or more.

In most cases, an expanding rash resembling a bull’s-eye or solid patch will appear near the site of the bite.

If an expanding rash with a diameter of more than two inches appears or flu-like symptoms occur over a 30-day period following a tick bite, individuals should contact their health care provider immediately.

On a state level, the state health department has had more than 5,500 new cases of the disease reported since 1986, with numbers increasing in recent years.

(Graphics provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Other less common tick-borne diseases include babesiosis and anaplasmosis, averaging 423 and 570 cases annually statewide, respectively, since 2010. Rocky Mountain spotted fever, averaging 27 cases annually statewide since 2010, and Powassan encephalitis, totaling 20 cases, are also possible to contract.

These diseases vary in their severity, but all can cause serious illness and even death, if untreated.

To avoid getting tick-borne illnesses while hiking, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following precautions.

Before you go outdoors

¯ Know where to expect ticks. Ticks live in grassy, brushy or wooded areas, or even on animals. Spending time outside walking your dog, camping, gardening or hunting could bring you in close contact with ticks. Many people get ticks in their own yard or neighborhood.

¯ Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin. Permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing and camping gear and remain protective through several washings. Alternatively, you can buy permethrin-treated clothing and gear.

¯ Use EPA-registered insect repellents, such as DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol or 2-undecanone. Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old.

¯ Avoid contact with ticks by avoiding wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter, as well as staying on the walking trail.

After you come indoors

¯ Check your clothing for ticks. Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed. If the clothes require washing first, hot water is recommended.

¯ Carefully examine gear and pets, as ticks can attach to them and then crawl onto a person later.

¯ Showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease and may be effective in reducing the risk of other tick-borne diseases. Showering may help wash off unattached ticks and it is a good opportunity to do a tick check.

¯ Check your body for ticks after being outdoors. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body: Under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, back of the knees, in and around hair, between the legs and around the waist.

For more information about Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases, visit: http://wdt.me/obg5ng.