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Extension Corner: The dreaded Arkansas hitchhiker

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Spring and summer are hunting, fishing, camping and hiking seasons, here in our neck of the woods, but it also the time that we see a rise in the number of that dreaded pest called the tick.
If you spend time outdoors or have animals that do, you need to beware of ticks. Some ticks are so small that they can be difficult to see. Ticks may get on you as you walk through areas where they live, such as tall grass, leaf litter or shrubs. They just love to hitchhike their way to a good dinner by hopping on you, your clothes, or your animals as you walk by a tall blade of grass. As Dr. John Hopkins, state Entomologist says, “If you happen to cross their path they are more than happy to make a meal out of you.” So as the nice weather returns so do the ticks. He suggest that you be aware of the places they like to be, such as foot paths, animal trails, and the edge of wooded areas.
The Arkansas Department of Health’s, Dr. Susan Weinstein warns that while the pests are small they can carry serious diseases.
But what do you need to know about a tick bite?
Most tick bites are not dangerous, but ticks can pass disease or infection when they bite. A tick will bite and then move further into the skin, where it stays to feed on blood. Ticks need to be removed quickly. Serious symptoms of a tick bite need immediate treatment. It is recommended that you if have been bit, keep a close eye out for symptoms.
What are the signs and symptoms of a tick bite?
Normal symptoms of a tick bite are pain, itching, and swelling in the skin near the bite and possible blisters and redness.
Symptoms of a more serious illness, such as Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever are: muscle or joint pain, muscle weakness or trouble walking, headache, fever, or chills, rash, tiredness, and loss of appetite. Even though it is called Rocky Mountain fever, it doesn’t happen a lot in that region of the U.S. Arkansas is among one of the highest states with reports for this illness. If you start experiencing these symptoms you should contact your doctor immediately.
How should a tick be removed?
Ticks must be removed as soon as possible to help prevent them from passing disease or infection. You are less likely to get sick from a tick bite if you remove the tick within 24 hours. Do the following to remove a tick:
Soak a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol, or use a disposable alcohol wipe. Gently clean the skin around the tick.
Grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible. Pull the tick straight up and out with tweezers, or with fingertips protected by a tissue or gloves. Do not touch the tick with your bare hands.
Pull gently until the tick lets go. Do not twist or jerk the tick suddenly, because this may break off the tick's head or mouth parts. Do not leave any part of the tick in your skin.
Do not crush or squeeze the tick since its body may be infected with germs. Flush the tick down the toilet.
Do not put a hot match, petroleum jelly, or fingernail polish on the tick. This does not help and may be dangerous.
After the tick is removed, clean the area of the bite with rubbing alcohol. Then wash your hands with soap and water.
How can you treat tick bites?
Apply ice: Ice decreases pain, itching, and swelling. Put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover the bag with a towel. Put the bag on your bite for 15 to 20 minutes each hour or as directed by your caregiver.
Antibiotics: Physicians may give you antibiotics if you get an infection from the tick bite. Do not stop taking the antibiotics until you talk to your physician, even if you feel better.
Antihistamines: Antihistamines decrease swelling and itching.
Local anesthetic: This medicine helps to decrease pain and itching.
Topical steroids: A topical steroid is medicine that you rub into your skin to decrease redness and itching. Topical steroids are available without a doctor's order. Do not use this medicine on areas of skin that are cut, scratched, or infected.
The question may be what can we do to get rid of these hitchhikers? We will have to wait until it freezes. I don’t know about you but, that cold can wait for a while. I will just be on the lookout and not offer any free rides.
Now that we know how to take care of those little critters, let’s get out and enjoy the beautiful Ozarks that we call home.
For more information about this topic or a copy of “Tick-Borne Disease in Arkansas” contact the Newton County Extension Office at 446-2240. The Arkansas Cooperative Service Division of Agriculture is an equal opportunity, equal access and affirmative action institution.

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