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It Is Tick Time In Texas

Aug 18, 2007
The woods and fields in Houston, Dallas and the rest of Texas are beautiful this time of year. But they also harbor a hidden danger -- ticks. Ticks are part of the spider family, with more than 800 species around the world. The three species mentioned here are found in Texas and surrounding states.

Ticks are one of the leading carriers of diseases to humans in the United States, second only to mosquitoes, globally. And like mosquitoes, it's not the bite but the toxins or organisms in the tick's saliva, transmitted through the bite, that causes disease. Ticks are responsible for carrying such diseases as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, babesiosis (Texas fever), ehrlichiosis, and tularemia (also transmitted via rabbits), Colorado tick fever and Powassan (a form of encephalitis).

Lone Star Tick is found primarily in the southern and south central U.S. It is a reddish-brown species and the common hosts include a wide variety of mammals, including humans and ground-feeding birds. The adult female has a distinctive white spot on her back. The male has a white marking around the outside of its back. This species can transmit ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tularemia.

American Dog Tick is found east of the Rocky Mountains, occurs on the Pacific Coast and occasionally in Texas. The dog is the preferred host of the adult tick, although it feeds on many large mammals, including man. The males and females have pale whitish or yellowish markings on the dorsal shield. Males may be only 1/8 inch long, while engorged females may be as much as 1 inch in length. This species is known to transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.

Deer Tick, or Black-Legged Tick, is found in the eastern half of the US. Common hosts include deer, livestock and dogs. This species loves to feed on humans in the northeastern US and only occasionally in Texas. The males and females are dark brown in color and have no white markings. Males may be only 1/8 inch long, while engorged females may be as much as 1 inch in length. This tick species is known to transmit Lyme disease and babesiosis.

In addition to the various diseases you can contract, ticks can cause tick paralysis, a condition which occurs when neurotoxins in the tick saliva induce paralysis of the body and, in extreme cases, can stop you from breathing.

Deer, Lone Star and American Dog ticks fall into the category of hard ticks, which have a tough back plate and have a tendency to attach and feed for hours, even days. Disease transmission usually occurs near the end of a meal, as the tick gorges on your blood.

A tick secretes "cementum" to firmly anchor its head to the host. It may also regurgitate tiny amounts of saliva that contain neurotoxins, which prevent the host from feeling the pain and irritation of the bite. So you may never notice the tick feeding on you.

Tick bites are generally painless. You may not even notice the bite and you may never find the tick, if it falls off. If you've been bitten, you may notice local redness, itching, and burning -- and, occasionally, localized intense pain.

With Deer ticks, you may notice a redness that spreads and eventually becomes clear in the center, forming a ring. This is a good indicator of the beginning of Lyme disease. If any tick has been on you for more that 24 hours, there's a good chance it may have passed something along. Fewer than 24 hours, the probability of passing something on is closer to zero. Regardless of when you've been bitten, you should see a medical professional as soon as you discover the bite.

If you develop any of the following symptoms, a tick may have bitten you:
- Feel as if you have the flu
- Fever
- Numbness
- Rash
- Confusion
- Weakness
- Pain and swelling in joints
- Palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and vomiting

How can Texans avoid these little bloodsuckers? Stay out of grassy areas and shrubs during the months of May through September, when ticks may be lying in wait. Wear light-colored clothing so you can spot ticks easily and brush them off. Don't wear shorts or walk in bare feet in these areas. When you wear pants, tuck your cuffs into your boots or socks. You can also apply insect repellant, specifically the brands designed to repel ticks. Avoid use of DEET-containing repellants on children. You may apply some repellants directly to your skin and others to clothing. And finally, if you've visited a wooded or grassy area, promptly check yourself, others and pets for tick infestation.

It's important to take care of yourself, especially when you are outdoors. Ignoring the threat of ticks can certainly affect your health, both in the short and long term. Eventually, it will also affect your wallet as well.
About the Author
Pat Carpenter writes for Precedent Insurance Company. Precedent puts a new spin on health insurance. Learn more at Precedent.com
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