Enjoying Summer Without the Bite of Tick-borne Illness

Summertime is in full force, and with the warmer temperatures come opportunities for outdoor adventures… and tick bites. In Oklahoma, there is a wide range of tick species, each of which can carry serious diseases, such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis and Tularemia. In fact, there has been an uptick in tick-borne illnesses, with 59,349 Americans diagnosed in 2017 alone. 

Of course, staying indoors is not an option, especially when Oklahoma’s beautiful outdoors are beckoning. So, how do you keep yourself and your family safe from tick-borne illnesses while enjoying camping, swimming or even working in the yard? According to health experts, the best ways to avoid tick-borne illnesses include using insect repellent that contains DEET, wearing closed-toed shoes and clothing that fully covers the arms and legs when hiking through grassy areas and checking your skin for ticks every few hours. 

In my practice as a dermatologist, I’ve seen too many patients become very ill from tick-borne illness, some of whom have had lasting effects. To help people uncover possible infections quickly, my wife Rachel and I developed TestMyTick.com, a service that screens ticks for more than 14 possible diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The service is free to people throughout the state from July 1, 2019, to July 1, 2020, thanks to a grant from the Oklahoma State Medical Association (OSMA) Foundation.

If you or a loved one are bitten, be sure to remove the tick quickly and place it in a sealed bag to be tested for diseases. Then visit TestMyTick.com and click on the tab at the top that says “Order Tick Test.” The coupon code for free testing is “PREPAID.” 

The testing is confidential and results are emailed within a few days after the tick is received. If your tick has a positive result, keep in mind that even a positive tick test doesn’t necessarily mean that the disease has been transferred to you or your loved one. However, it does offer an important tool that can be used if symptoms develop and will help your physician with treatment.  

In addition to screening for potential diseases, the service also provides researchers with vital information found in areas throughout the state, all while keeping user information secure. The goal of the tick testing mail-in program and information site is to save lives as well as to provide increased access to professional tick testing for physicians, veterinarians and the public.

Lastly, and most importantly, if you have already experienced a tick bite and no longer have the tick, be on the lookout for problematic symptoms, including fever and chills, joint pain, muscle aches, fatigue, a rash or a bullseye-shaped lesion around the bitten area. If you experience these symptoms after receiving a tick bite, see your family doctor as soon as possible.

Now, enjoy the outdoors and don’t forget to save those ticks!

 

Dr. George Monks is a Tulsa-based dermatologist and President-Elect of the Oklahoma State Medical Association. He earned his Eagle Scout award in Troop #470 in Wilburton, Ok.