While Oklahomans have been focused on the violent nature of recent weather, the conditions are also ripe for disease-spreading ticks. The state Health Department says a warm spring and the onset of summer will bring an increase in the number of tick bites.
Health officials are encouraging residents to take precautions while outdoors, including performing regular checks for tick bites.
Oklahoma ranks near the top of states with the highest number of cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever as well as other tickborne illnesses such as ehrlichiosis and tularemia.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health offers these protective tips:
- Wear light-colored clothing to make ticks easier to see.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into socks to deprive ticks of attachment sites.
- Wear closed-toe shoes, not sandals.
- Hikers and bikers should stay in the center of trails to avoid grass and brush.
- Check for ticks at least once per day, particularly along waistbands, hairline and back of neck, in the armpits and groin area. Remove attached ticks as soon as possible using tweezers or fingers covered with a tissue.
- Use an insect repellent containing DEET on skin and clothing according to directions. (Insect repellent with permethrin should be used on clothing only and according to directions.)
- Check with your veterinarian about tick control for your pets! Dogs and cats can get tickborne illnesses too, and they are a traveling tick parade, bringing ticks into your home if not on a tick preventive regimen.
The state health department says five people have already been hospitalized this year with a disease carried by ticks. Last year, there were 572 tickborne disease cases reported among residents, with 64 ending up in the hospital.
Symptoms of a tickborne illness may include fever, headache, muscle aches, vomiting, and abdominal pain, says the health department. Other symptoms may include a skin rash or painful swelling of lymph nodes near the tick bite.