Open Accessibility Menu

Beware of Ticks in the South

Beware of Ticks in the South

Ticks have long been known to cause sickness including fever, chills and rashes in humans, but the Lone Star tick is being linked to the “Heartland” virus, which can cause severe illness or death in older adults or those with underlying health conditions. This species of tick is most commonly found throughout the southeastern United States, and researchers are concerned by the rise in cases of the virus.

Transmitted to a person by a tick bite, the Heartland virus can include fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, headache, nausea, diarrhea, and muscle and joint pain. In more severe cases, patients required hospitalization. Most fully recover with antibiotics and supportive care, but there have been cases of death in older individuals with existing medical conditions.

Those infected with the Heartland virus have shown low white blood cell counts and lower than normal platelet counts, which aid the body in blood clotting functions. Liver function can also become compromised with tests showing increased levels of liver enzymes, an indicator of illness or infection. Lone star ticks can also carry bacteria that can cause diseases including ehrlichiosis and tularemia. Meat allergies have also been a result of a bite from a Lone Star tick in a small percentage of those infected.

As you make your summer travel plans that may include hiking, camping, or spending more time outdoors, please keep these tips in mind to help keep you safe and protected.

  • Wear light-colored protective clothing, long pants, shoes or boots and tuck pant legs into socks.
  • Use a chemical repellent that includes DEET, picaridin or permethrin (Think OFF! Deep Woods, Repel and Cutter products). And don’t forget your face!
  • Wear a hat and pull your hair back so that ticks can’t grab on to your hair or scalp.
  • Avoid overgrown wooden and bushy areas with high grass and leaf debris.
  • Stick to the center of hiking trails and avoid the edges of paths where ticks are more prevalent.
  • Check yourself, your family, and your pets regularly and immediately after a hike or time outdoors.
  • Take a shower within 2 hours of coming in from outdoors. While a shower won’t remove a tick that is already attached to the skin, it can wash off ticks that are crawling on the body.

The key to keeping you safe is prevention, but if you do find a tick has attached, proceed with caution when removing. First, gently clean the area around the tick with rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab. Then, using tweezers, get as close as possible to the tick’s head which is attached to the skin and gently and firmly remove the tick. Be cautious not to squeeze the body of the tick, as this can cause the tick to release bacteria into your body. Old-school approaches like burning a tick off with a match or lighter are not suggested and can cause severe burns to the skin.

Don’t wait to consult your healthcare provider if you have removed or need help removing a tick and if you are concerned about infection. Left untreated, symptoms can lead to more serious health issues, nerve inflammation, meningitis, and Lyme disease.