McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Local News

June 6, 2014

Up-tick in tick-borne illness exposure

With field researchers seeing an increased number of ticks, there is an increased risk of being bitten and exposed to tick-borne illness.

Oklahoma State University Extension Educator David Cantrell said in southeast Oklahoma he has seen an increased number of ticks in the field while working with cattle and livestock. That could bring an increased risk of tick-borne illness, seen annually in Oklahoma, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia and Lyme disease.

In addition to Oklahoma’s annual tick-borne diseases, the Oklahoma State Department of Health said the first confirmed case and death of Heartland virus was recently identified in a Delaware County resident.

The victim was the tenth person nationwide confirmed with the virus and the second person to die from it.

OSDH epidemiologist Rachel Clinton said Heartland virus is just that — a virus — whereas the other tick-borne illnesses are bacterial infections. She said the tick-borne illness is thought to be associated with a bite from the Lonestar tick.

“We are still learning about it,” Clinton said. “Because it is a virus, it is different from the other tick-borne illnesses that are bacterial.”

There is no cure, or specific treatment for the Heartland virus at this time, because the illness is so new, she said.

The virus was first seen in 2009, in Missouri. The person reported to have it and then ultimately died from it in Delaware County was the tenth person to contract it and the second to die from it.

So far in 2014, 34 cases of tick-borne diseases have been reported to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, with two individuals hospitalized.

According to Pittsburg County Health Department Administrator  Mike Echelle, there were 368 cases of tick-borne disease reported among Oklahoma residents, in 2013. An OSDH press release says that 42 of those required hospitalization for their illness.

Echelle said so far in 2014 there were 240 confirmed cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, 116 ehrlichiosis cases, 10 tularemia cases and two Lyme disease cases.

Clinton said the numbers Echelle mentioned are confirmed cases that have been reported to OSDH.

Most tick-borne diseases can be treated successfully with early diagnosis and specific antibiotics, so it is important to seek medical attention if a fever — or any other signs of illness — are noticed within 14 days of a tick bite or being in an area where ticks may live.

Clinton said a tick-borne illness must meet a very strict criteria for the Centers for Disease Control to determine which one it is, or if it is a tick-borne illness — all tick-borne illnesses have very similar symptoms.

For example, doctors may give a clinical diagnosis of Lyme disease based on what they see as symptoms and then decide to treat it as Lyme disease with a specific treatment.

However, before it is considered a confirmed case of Lyme disease there are two rounds of testing the samples taken from a person must meet. The first test checks samples for antibodies that are present when there are possibilities of Lyme disease and the second test must be administered by the CDC.

Clinton said people who get tick-borne illnesses can usually be treated by their primary care physician, or, depending on the severity of their infection, may have to seek the help of a specialist.

Clinton said there are doctors in the state who specialize in tick-borne illnesses. The symptoms of a tick-borne illness may include fever, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, and fatigue. Other symptoms may include a skin rash or painful swelling of lymph nodes near the tick bite.

The OSDH advises persons who participate in hiking, camping, bicycle trail-riding, yard work, gardening and other outdoor activities to prevent tick bites by following the tips below:

• 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 tick-borne illnesses too, and they are a traveling tick parade, bringing ticks into your home if not on a tick preventive regimen.

For more information, visit and click on “Disease Information” then, “tick-borne and Mosquitoborne Diseases.”

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