According to the late naturalist John Muir, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” And that’s good, as long as you only receive inspiration—not tick bites.

Missouri is home to a variety of ticks, tiny arachnids that attach to a host and feast on its blood. In the process, ticks can transmit diseases, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia, Lyme disease and the relatively new Heartland virus. However, experts say there’s no need to panic. Serious illness caused by tick bites remains rare. People who suffer from chronic disease, are immunocompromised or are elderly are at highest risk of serious illness or death from tick-borne infection.

“The ticks most commonly found in Missouri (dog and lone star ticks) are not responsible for Lyme disease,” says Dr. Michael Railey, a SLUCare family physician. “Tick bites don’t commonly lead to disease even when infestation occurs in common areas. Probably about 1.2 to 1.4 percent of the time, tick-borne disease occurs.” In order for the tick to infect a human, it must have fed for 24 to 36 hours, he adds.

While she agrees that tick-borne disease is infrequent, Dr. Elizabeth Lucas, medical director of St. Luke's Urgent Care Centers and St. Luke's Convenient Care, provides a list of potential symptoms that call for medical attention: high fever, excessive fatigue, severe headache, confusion, weakness or paralysis, numbness, severe muscle aches, vomiting, difficulty breathing, or significant rashes.

In many cases, there will be a mild, local (skin) reaction to a tick bite, adds Dr. Jad Khoury, an infectious disease specialist with Mercy Clinic. These minor reactions usually clear up quickly with no need for medical intervention. However, Khoury advises precaution as a rule. “Prevention requires wearing long sleeves, if possible, and having another person check your skin and hair for ticks after being outdoors,” he says.

DEET is the most effective chemical agent recommended by experts. “It has been determined that for casual outdoor activities, products containing 20 to 50 percent DEET are effective for providing long-lasting protection against ticks, which is a slightly higher concentration than what is recommended for mosquitoes,” Lucas says. “A 10 to 30 percent concentration of DEET may be used on children over the age of 2 months for mosquito and tick bite protection.” Other effective insect repellants contain picaridin, IR3535 and lemon eucalyptus, she says.

If you do find a tick attached to your skin, Railey recommends removal with a fine-pointed pair of tweezers, gently but consistently pulling the tick out. “The tick should be grasped close to the skin without twisting, tugging or tearing,” he says. “If all body parts do not come out, do not continue to dig and cause more skin damage. After gently washing with soap and water the remaining parts will eventually fall out. Do not use matches, kerosene, vaseline, alcohol or other ‘folk’ remedies.”

Enjoy being outdoors this summer. But be careful to gain only inspiration from those walks in the woods.

For Safe, Healthy Summer Travel

If travel is part of your summer plan, make sure you’re prepared for a healthy trip. And if you’re not sure exactly what that entails, seek professional advice.

The Ladue Pharmacy Travel Care Clinic has existed for two years, and chief pharmacist Angie Kloeppel administers vaccines to protect against yellow fever, typhoid, hepatitis A and B, polio, tetanus and diptheria, pneumonia and other diseases that can ruin a vacation.

“Our travel clinic provides an assessment of required or recommended vaccines based on the country or countries traveling to or through,” says pharmacy owner Richard Williams. “We offer consultation on risks and benefits, recommended over-the-counter products and supplies that may be needed during travel. Patients receiving the yellow fever vaccine receive a special stamp that is recognized internationally.”

Appointments are required and should be made as soon as possible to ensure that vaccines are given far enough in advance to be effective.

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