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Bite-borne illnesses see uptick in Webster County

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There are hundreds of illnesses that can stem from a tick bite. Here in Webster County, healthcare providers are seeing an increase of cases this summer – some leading to hospitalization. 

“The majority of the cases that we’re seeing are Ehrlichia and Rocky Mountain Fever,” said Epidemiologist Ladi Moore with the Webster County Health Unit. “As far as numbers go, we’ve had nine cases since the middle of June.”

Of these recent cases, at least two hospitalizations turned into multiple-day stays with one landing in the ICU. According to a press release from the health unit, people should watch for symptoms of tick-borne disease in the days and weeks following a tick bite. These include any unusual rash and unexplained flu-like symptoms, including fever, severe headaches, body aches, and dizziness.

“If you have pre-existing conditions you may be more susceptible to severe sickness but what we’re seeing is very healthy, young patients who are severely sick with tick illnesses,” she added. “It definitely doesn’t discriminate.”

While symptoms of tick-borne diseases often are mild, but they should not be ignored. If you know you’ve been bitten by a tick and any of the above symptoms appear, consult a doctor and mention the recent tick bite. Prompt treatment with antibiotics can prevent serious illness or even death.

“There are a lot of long-term side effects of tick-borne illnesses as well. The majority of people get better, eventually,” Moore said. “There are so many that deal with long-term effects from it.”

Commonly transmitted diseases from tick bites include ehrlichiosis, tularemia, anaplasmosis, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). The risk of contracting these illnesses is small but serious, so it is worth taking a few simple precautions to avoid them.

Protective clothing is the first line of defense against ticks. When outdoors, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and boots with pants tucked into socks or boots. Rubber bands, blousing bands, or tape can be used to secure the cuffs of your pants.

“One of the main things people can do is just avoid them. Make sure you’re using a spray outdoors that includes DEET as an ingredient,” added Scott Allen. “Try to avoid more vegetative areas as well because that’s where they’re more likely to live. If you have just finished camping or hiking, anything like that just give yourself a good check. The longer a tick is on your body, the higher the likelihood of spreading disease.”

As far as tick removal, latest recommendations are using a good pair of tweezers, grabbing it as close to the head as you can and pull straight up, without squeezing the body. After removal, clean your hands and the area of tick bite thoroughly with rubbing alcohol or soap. For questions, contact the Webster County Health Unit at (417) 859-2532.

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