All across the South, lying in wait in the grass and trees, there are a growing number of a certain pest that could potentially be harmful to your health: ticks.
While public health officials say the reported number of Lyme disease cases and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are not yet causes for concern, the number of ticks is growing exponentially, and officials worry with this increase comes an increased risk of disease, especially during the months people spend outdoors.
According to the Associated Press, scientists are finding new ticks not native to the South, which they believe have been in the area since 2009 when a parasite, native to South America, which had previously been seen only in coastal Florida and Georgia appeared. While the tick isn’t known to bite humans, it will bite animals.
“Ticks are spreading, but usually not like wildfire,” said Joseph Piseman, chief of tick-borne disease activity for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The spread is kind of slow but sure.”
Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are both serious illnesses and can be contracted through a tick bite.
Ticks pick up the bacteria that causes Lyme disease when they bite mice or deer that are infected with Lyme disease. If you are bitten by an infected tick, you can contract the disease. It can cause paralysis, heart palpitations and even death. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is carried in the Eastern U.S. by the dog tick. The most recent cases have been reported in North and South Carolina,Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, and Tennessee.
While the CDC hasn’t reported a spike in tick-borne diseases, officials in North Carolina have noticed an increase this year compared with last year. In fact, according to reports, Rocky Mountain spotted fever cases are up 50 percent.
For now, experts say the best prevention is simply education. The most common victims of ticks can be children. Playing in the woods, rolling on the ground and other common summer activities can pose opportunities for ticks to latch on in hard to find places such as behind the ears or in the groin area.
Checking your family’s head, ears and other hard to reach places regularly can help prevent a potential serious disease. If you think you have been bitten by a tick, make sure to consult your doctor immediately.