Four Steps to Beat These Summer Pests

Even Alaska isn't safe anymore.

According to a study from the Journal of Medical Entomology, Alaska is now home to ticks.

The American dog tick, which already infested the entire lower 48, made its way to Alaska a few years ago and took hold. It's the first tick in the area that feeds on and infects humans. Experts believe they can survive cold winters if they live around the state's southern coastal areas. That means it's only a matter of time before Alaska's ticks start spreading disease.

According to the University of Rhode Island's tick-borne disease center, this summer will have "higher-than-average tick populations." That's everywhere in the U.S. And June and July are the peak season for these pests.

Right now, it might not seem like cause to worry. Relatively few folks contract tick-borne diseases each year. But these diseases are on the rise (and many are undiagnosed). If you don't know what to look for, you might delay treatment... and risk a fatal reaction.

So today we wanted to discuss three tick-borne diseases on the rise and how to keep yourself safe this summer.

Lyme disease is the most prevalent, with 33,461 reported cases in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But some estimates put the actual number of infections much higher, at about 300,000. Most cases go unreported, which accounts for this gap. That's because the symptoms often mimic other diseases.

Similarly, we've seen more cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) as well. But the fatality rate dropped drastically from 30% before antibiotics were available to about 0.5% today. That's despite a sharp increase in cases. In 2000, we saw two cases per million people. In 2014 that number was up to 11 cases per million. Without antibiotics, the fatality rate is still high, with one study showing at least 70% of seniors dying from RMSF if left untreated.

And finally, there's a newcomer to the group. We've only just started to understand a disease triggered by a bite from the lone star tick. It makes your body develop antibodies to a sugar found in red meat. That in turn makes you have a severe allergic reaction to beef, pork, lamb, and other red meats.

Here's a brief overview:

Don't let the tick names fool you, either. They're found throughout the country and even as far north as Alaska. Some even hitchhiked to Hawaii. That's why no matter where you spend time this summer, you need to keep yourself safe.

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How to Avoid Ticks

1. Know your surroundings. Most ticks live in wooded areas and in high grass. But they also infest yards with trees and any place where deer roam. So you might not have high grass, but if deer regularly cross your garden, be on the lookout for ticks. Similarly, ticks hitchhike on other animals (and other people). So you might find them even in cities. Be alert and check yourself regularly.

2. Check yourself and your pets. Any time you go out under trees, in a wooded area, or in high grass, do a tick check when you return. Be sure to run hands through your hair, feeling the scalp for any small bumps. Check your ears, your groin, under your arms, inside your belly button, the backs of your knees, and around your waist. Shake out your clothes, too.

And it's not just you. Dog ticks got their name because they prefer our pets. But they can transfer to humans. So whenever you let Fido back inside the house, do a proper check for ticks. A brush or flea comb will help with hair, and be sure to check pads and ears, too (you can see more right here). And use a tick-prevention option. Collars or drops work well to ward off both fleas and ticks.

3. Wear the right clothes. Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants tucked into your socks. Also invest in a summer hat for whenever you go into areas where ticks may live. If you also dress in lighter colors, ticks are easier to spot.

4. Try a spray. We typically don't recommend anything containing DEET because of the harmful chemicals. But we do like (and use!) oil of lemon eucalyptus. It lasts about as long and deters not just ticks, but mosquitoes as well. Find it right here.

Following these four steps will help keep you disease-free this summer no matter where you go. If you have any tips for dealing with ticks or other pests this summer, we'd love to hear them – send them to us at [email protected].

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
May 24, 2018