Fatal diseases can be spread by vicious vectors page
Ticks are no strangers in Arkansas. After hiking or working outside, people may find the tiny arachnids latched onto their skin, leaving an itchy bite. These creatures are more than a nuisance, however; they can also transmit life-threatening diseases.
The Arkansas Department of Health recently found two cases of Lyme disease in Arkansas. Dr. Dirk Haselow, Arkansas state epidemiologist, noted that the cases met the surveillance definition for the illness, which may differ from a clinical diagnosis because strict criteria is used to ensure that surveillance cases remain consistent across the country and over time.
Although a slew of tick-related illnesses exist in Arkansas, Lyme disease is fairly rare. The two recent cases were the first found in the state in nine years, Haselow said.
It is unclear why Lyme disease suddenly reappeared in Arkansas, but there are several reasons for the disease’s rarity. Black-legged ticks, also called deer ticks, are the main Lyme-disease culprits, but Arkansas has more lone star and brown dog ticks, which do not spread the disease.
In addition, ticks cannot transmit Lyme disease to their eggs, so a tick must contract the bacteria that causes Lyme disease from an animal before infecting a human. According to Haselow, mice and deer are the primary animals that harbor the bacteria, but ticks in Arkansas usually feed on birds and lizards early in their lives, making them less likely to pick up the disease and transmit it to humans.
That is not to say that it is impossible to contract Lyme disease in Arkansas, however.
“We have all the animals that are capable of transmitting or holding Lyme disease. We have many ticks that are capable of transmitting Lyme disease, and the environment is capable of sustaining it,” Haselow said.
The first sign of Lyme disease is a bulls-eye shaped rash about four inches in diameter at the site of the tick bite. People may not remember being bitten, Haselow said, because ticks that transmit Lyme disease are often minuscule. Ticks must embed in the skin for several hours to transmit the illness, and people usually notice and remove larger ticks before they can spread the disease.
When diagnosed right away, Lyme disease can easily be treated with doxycycline, an antibiotic. If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause migrating joint pain, and eventually, the illness can damage the heart, brain and other organs, he said.
To meet the surveillance case definition for Lyme disease, he added, a patient must exhibit the trademark rash, be diagnosed by a physician and have two separate blood tests that confirm the presence of the disease.
In Arkansas, Southern tick-associated rash illness, commonly called STARI, is often confused with Lyme disease, he said. The illness also causes a bulls-eye shaped rash at the site of the bite, but the rash is only about 2 inches in diameter. STARI usually resolves itself without treatment, he added.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is the most common tickborne disease in Arkansas. Last year, the Department of Health counted 808 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, compared to 198 cases of ehrlichiosis and 32 cases of tularemia, two other prevalent tick-related diseases.
Transmitted by the brown dog tick, Rocky Mountain spotted fever’s symptoms include a red-speckled rash all over the body, fever, headache, nausea and vomiting. If left untreated, the illness can cause meningitis, sepsis and death.
A disease native to Arkansas, ehrlichiosis was first discovered in Fort Chaffee. Ehrlichiosis is transmitted by the lone star tick, which has a white spot on its back. Symptoms include headache, malaise, joint pain, nausea and vomiting, and the disease can lead to meningitis and death. Both ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be treated with doxycycline.
One of the most serious tick-borne illnesses in the state is tularemia, which is spread by both brown dog and lone star ticks and causes an array of grave health problems that could be fatal, including skin lesions, vomiting and diarrhea, pneumonia and meningitis.
“We want people, when they go outside, to be careful and to protect themselves from tick bites so that they can avoid all of these tick-borne illnesses,” Haselow said.
To keep the bugs at bay, nature lovers should wear long pants and sleeves in light colors doused with permethrin, an insecticide. It is also important to wear insect repellent and reapply the product every few hours as directed on the label. After spending time outside, check for ticks and take a shower in order to find and remove ticks as soon as possible.
To properly remove a tick, use tweezers to grip the tick’s head as close to its mouth as possible, and slowly pull the tick off. Do not grab the tick’s body and crush it, which could squeeze its saliva and stomach contents into the wound, making the transfer of disease more likely.
The Arkansas Department of Health recently discovered two cases of Lyme disease in Arkansas. Prior to that, no cases that met the surveillance definition for the illness had been found in the state for nine years. The deer tick, pictured here, is one...