Earlier this summer, Gov. Jim Justice announced that he was receiving treatment for Lyme disease, heightening attention in the state around tick borne illnesses. And despite the recent drop in temperature, West Virginians are still at risk for tick bites. Reporter Chris Schulz sat down with state health officer Dr. Ayne Amjad to discuss tick safety and prevention.
Schulz: Dr. Amjad, thank you so much for joining me. When we talk about tick borne illnesses, what exactly is it that we’re referring to?
Amjad: There’s a long period when we’re susceptible to ticks, anywhere from March to December, which is pretty much the whole year. But I think on top of that, it’s when patients present with symptoms, which can be 30 days to a couple of months afterwards, which might be why we kind of see this pattern. Is it worse during the spring or the summer? I think that’s part of it.
Lyme disease is more common in our Eastern Panhandle, close to Maryland. Maryland, is also one of the hotspots states that have tick borne illnesses. But if we see anything common, it would probably be Lyme disease, as far as tick borne illnesses go.
Schulz: Why is Lyme disease a particular concern?
Amjad: It’s the long term effects of Lyme disease. If you get bitten by a tick and it’s attached for a long period of time, and not treated with antibiotics appropriately right away, several months, anywhere from one month to three months to six months, a person can have long term effects or Lyme disease. It can cause a sequence of reactions that can affect your health and you know, joint pain. Some people have cardiac problems, chronic fatigue, so they’re just things like that, it can have long lasting effects on someone.
Schulz: Governor Justice had a Lyme disease scare over the summer. Can you tell us how he’s doing now?
Amjad: He’s doing well. I think he was treated appropriately right away with antibiotics. That helps. I think anytime you suspect Lyme disease or see a tick and you remove it, and it was attached longer than 24 hours to get treated right away so that you don’t have those side effects later, a couple of weeks or months later.
Schulz: So what preventions can people take against ticks?
Amjad: You need to put on bug spray when you go outside. A lot of people don’t like the old ones, it has DDT in it or permethrin, but you can get natural ones as well. Definitely stay on trails, try not to go in the shrubs too much. But if you do, always wear a hat because you know, ticks can get into your hair easily. Also get on pets as well, so definitely check your pets when they get back in. But definitely wearing bug screen, wearing light colored clothing helps a little bit better, because then you can see if there’s something sticking on you after you’ve gone out, let’s say for a hike or somewhere where it’s possible that there are ticks and even deer.
You know if you see deer a lot, I would assume there could be ticks around as well. Definitely when you come back in, check your hair, check any areas that the ticks could have been sometimes behind the knees, armpits. They tend to go in little crevices and hide. Take a shower right away. Definitely check your pet. I mean, my pet, my dog has had little ticks on it just by going in a yard that’s not even that brushy.
Schulz: So what if the prevention fails, what then? If someone has a tick bite or finds a tick on them?
Amjad: I would say if you find a tick on you, and you remove it to let your physician know, because your symptoms might show up till three days, seven days one month later, and by then you’ve kind of missed that window for treatment. So most physicians or healthcare providers will say if you saw it removed right away, and it didn’t bite you, you don’t need treatment. Watch for symptoms such as fever, rash, fatigue, almost like flu-like symptoms, but there’s a window of opportunity for treatment. I would recommend any patient who finds a tick on them, just to go ahead and let their healthcare provider know. So say you call back in a few days, or maybe they do want to pretreat or do some blood tests on you, it’s better to know ahead of time than three, five days later.
Schulz: CDC data shows us that visits to emergency departments for tick bites tend to spike at the end of spring, early summer. And then again, right around now at the start of fall. Do you have any idea why that might be?
Amjad: I had not seen that chart that you’re talking about, but if the peaks are towards the end of summer and then beginning of fall, I would think that it’s because whensummer starts more people are going outside. Keep in mind that time, March to December of tick season is really, like I said, it’s the whole year. So it doesn’t make any sense. But I would think that’s why we’re seeing those spikes that you mentioned, because summertime, everyone’s rushing out going out. Maybe it’s not too hot yet or maybe they don’t see bugs so they’re not spraying themselves. Same thing in the fall. We tend to think it’s a little cooler outside, today is cool, maybe I don’t need bug spray. I don’t see bugs, you know, flying on me like I would normally, so they probably don’t do it. I would think that’s why we’re seeing these spikes.
Schulz: Dr. Amjad is there anything else you think the public should know about ticks and tick borne illnesses?
Amjad: No, I just want people to check their pets and I’ll say dogs because I have dogs. We live in a populated area but we still see deer a lot. The grass is not high but the dog sometimes still gets ticks on, in their ears or behind and stuff. So I would just remind people to check their pets too because pets can get sick from it the same way: joint pains and problems later. But I would just remind people to check their furbabies.