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State public health director advises protection against ticks and disease

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month

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[May 13, 2008]  SPRINGFIELD -- Damon T. Arnold, state public health director, is warning residents to take precautions against tick bites to prevent contracting the diseases ticks can carry. May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month. Now through June is the peak period for tick activity, since ticks become active when the temperature is 40 degrees F or more at ground level.

Restaurant"As the weather gets warmer and people spend more time outdoors, they need to be careful to protect themselves from tick bites," said Dr. Arnold. "Ticks can transmit a number of diseases through a bite, so people should be diligent about using personal prevention measures and insect repellent when they are outdoors in areas where ticks may be present."

Ticks live in and near wooded areas, tall grass and brush and, if infected, can spread various diseases, including ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia and Lyme disease.

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Lyme disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected deer tick. The first sign of infection is usually a rash at the site of a tick bite from three to 32 days after the bite. The rash expands over a period of several days, and the center of the rash may clear as it enlarges, resulting in what can be referred to as a "bull's-eye appearance." Ticks can bite without causing discomfort and the rash is not usually painful, so these rashes can be overlooked, especially when they occur on areas of the body not readily noticed, like on a person's back or the back of the leg. Some combination of fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes can also occur.

It's important for people to recognize the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease, and other tick-borne diseases, so treatment is not delayed. Antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease. Left untreated, other signs and symptoms of the infection can occur, including facial palsy, severe headaches and stiff neck, pain and weakness in the extremities, joint pain with swelling, heart palpitations, and lightheadedness due to changes in the heartbeat.

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The best way to protect against tick-borne illnesses is to avoid tick bites by taking the following precautions:

  • Check your clothing often for ticks climbing toward open skin. Wear white or light-colored long-sleeved shirts and long pants so the tiny ticks are easier to see.

  • Tuck long pants into your socks and boots. Wear a head covering or hat for added protection.

  • Apply insect repellent containing DEET (30 percent or less) to exposed skin, except the face. Be sure to wash treated skin after coming indoors. If you do cover up, use repellents containing DEET for clothing or use permethrin to treat clothes -- especially pants, socks and shoes -- while in locations where ticks may be common. Follow label directions; do not misuse or overuse repellents. Permethrin repellents must be used on clothing only, not on skin.

  • Always supervise children in the use of repellents.

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  • Ticks are usually found in ankle- to shin-high grass and weeds. Ticks cannot hop or fly. Walk in the center of trails so weeds do not brush against you.

  • "Tick checks" are an important method of preventing tick-borne diseases. In areas where ticks may be present, be sure and check yourself, children and other family members every two to three hours for ticks. Most ticks seldom attach quickly and rarely transmit tick-borne disease until they have been attached for four or more hours.


  • If you let your pets outdoors, check them often for ticks. Infected ticks also can transmit disease to them. (Check with your veterinarian about preventive measures against tick-borne diseases.) You are at risk from ticks that "hitch a ride" on your pets but fall off in your home before they feed.

  • Remove any tick promptly. Do not try to burn the tick with a match or cover it with petroleum jelly or nail polish. Do not use bare hands. The best way to remove a tick is to grasp it with fine-point tweezers as close to the skin as possible and gently, but firmly, pull it straight out. Do not twist or jerk the tick. If tweezers are not available, grasp the tick with a piece of cloth or whatever can be used as a barrier between your fingers and the tick. You may want to put the tick in a jar of rubbing alcohol labeled with the date and location of the bite in case you seek medical attention and your physician wishes to have the tick identified.

  • Wash the bite area and your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Apply an antiseptic to the bite site.

  • Keep your grass mowed and keep weeds cut around your home.

  • Know the symptoms of tick-borne disease and consult with your physician if you have a rash or unexplained fever with flulike illness (without a cough) during the month following a tick bite -- these can be symptoms of a tick-borne disease.

For more information about ticks, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis and tularemia, visit

[Text from Illinois Department of Public Health file received from the Illinois Office of Communication and Information]


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