Ticks are more. | Photo via Creative Commons

As you go out to explore the great outdoors this holiday weekend, be careful not to bring home any unwanted visitors that like to hitch rides on humans. Yes, we’re talking ticks.

State officials from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and the state Department for Public Health are advising the public that ticks aren’t just a nuisance but potential spreaders of disease.

Click to see larger image. Source: CDC

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report this month indicating that illnesses from mosquito, tick and flea bites have tripled recently in the United States, with more than 640,000 cases reported from 2004 through 2016.

Incidences of tick-borne disease in Kentucky remain low, state officials say, but taking precautions is a smart thing to do.

“Spring and early summer are peak times for tick bites, which coincide with people venturing outdoors in the warmer weather,” Dr. Jeffrey D. Howard Jr., acting Department for Public Health commissioner, said in a news release. “It’s important that people take preventive measures against tick bites and also look for ticks after visiting affected areas.”

Tularemia, an illness that can result from tick or deer fly bites, was recently confirmed in a captive wild rabbit in Butler County. That illness usually affects rabbits and rodents but can be spread to people and pets, according to the state. Other illnesses spread by ticks include Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

However, “while tick bites are common during the warmer months in Kentucky, tick-borne diseases are rare,” Dr. Victoria A. Statler, who’s with UofL Physicians — Pediatric Infectious Diseases, said in a news release. “The vast majority of bites never result in any disease.”

State public health officials will have a Facebook Live discussion at 1 p.m. June 4 at www.facebook.com/kychfs to educate the public about ticks

In the meantime, they are promoting four steps: protect, check, remove and watch.

Protection includes avoiding places where ticks live, such as wooded and brushy areas, and wearing tick repellent with an effective active ingredient, such DEET or picaridin.

It’s also good to wear protective clothing, such as light-colored, long-sleeved shirts, and pants tucked into your socks. You can use permethrin to treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents, or get clothing pre-treated with permethrin, according to the CDC.

Courtesy of Natural Bridge State Park

When coming in from the outdoors, you should check your body, gear and pets for ticks. If you have children, check them, too.

But “you do not need to bring your child to the doctor if he or she has an attached tick but is otherwise well,” Dr. Gary S. Marshall, who’s with UofL Physicians — Pediatric Infectious Diseases, said in a news release.

If you spot an embedded tick, use tweezers to grab the tick close to the skin, pulling with steady pressure, not jerking or twisting, according to the state. Wash your hands and the bite location with soap and water afterward and put on some antiseptic.

“Dispose of a tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet,” the state advises. “Never crush a tick with your fingers.”

Be on the lookout for any symptoms of a tick-related illness within several weeks of removing the tick. Those vary but might include fever, rash, severe headache, muscle or joint aches, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

As Karen Waldrop, deputy commissioner of Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, says: “A tick bite can spoil an otherwise great day outdoors.”

Darla Carter
Darla Carter is a hometown girl who recently joined the staff of Insider Louisville to mostly cover health. She previously served as a longtime health and fitness writer for The Courier-Journal, where she also worked for the Metro, Neighborhoods and Features departments. Prior to that, the award-winning journalist wrote for newspapers elsewhere in Kentucky and Tennessee, covering a range of topics, from education to courts. She's a graduate of Western Kentucky University, where she studied journalism and philosophy, and is the proud mom of two young children.