Missouri is home to three main species of ticks; dog ticks, blacklegged ticks or deer ticks, and lone star ticks. Ticks go through three stages of development; larva, nymph, adult. Each species transmits diseases at different stages of their development. For example, lone star ticks and dog ticks typically transmit disease once they reach adulthood whereas deer ticks typically transmit disease in the nymph stage.
Ehrlichiosis is a bacterial illness transmitted by lone star ticks and the symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches. This illness often goes undiagnosed due to the laboratory testing required to detect it. Treatment consists of an antibiotic, usually doxycycline.
Tularemia, aka rabbit fever, can be transmitted through tick and deer fly bites, skin contact with infected animals, ingestion of contaminated water, or inhalation of contaminated aerosols or agricultural dusts. Symptoms vary greatly and can include a skin ulcer at the site of infection to life threatening pneumonic tularemia where the bacteria are inhaled into your lungs or symptoms are left untreated.
Southern tick-associated rash illness may be transmitted through the bite of a lone star tick. The symptoms are very similar to lyme disease. The actual cause of STARI is unknown.
One of the newest tick borne illnesses is the Alpha-Gal allergy. TAlpha-gal allergy is a meat allergy with delayed onset of symptoms. The allergy shows symptoms common to other food allergies such as peanuts however the symptoms don't become present until several hours after eating. Only mammals contain the allergen and currently the only effective treatment is to cut beef, pork, lamb, venison, goat, and bison out of your diet.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a potentially fatal disease caused by a dog tick bite. Symptoms include fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, muscle pain, and usually a rash after the first few days of infection. Antibiotics are the first line of treatment for this disease.
Lyme disease is probably the most common tick borne ailment. Symptoms are similar to RMSF with the addition of fatigue. The most common symptom is the characteristic bull's-eye rash around the site of the infected tick bite. If left untreated Lyme disease can spread to your joints, heart, and nervous system. A few weeks of antibiotics is the most common treatment.
There are several steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from ticks. When applying insect repellent don't forget to cover your pants, socks, and shoes. Do regular tick checks when coming from the woods or tall grass. It takes 6-8 hours of being attached to your skin for ticks to transmit disease. Cut your grass regularly since ticks thrive in tall grass.
For more information on Tick Borne diseases and ways to prevent becoming a victim to these unpleasant creatures visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website: https://www.cdc.gov/.
(Editors note: 1st Lt. Jake Pinion is the GLWACH Environmental Health Chief)