Health dept. alert for tick-borne diseases

Spring and summer are not only the seasons for hunt­ing, fishing, camping and hiking, but it’s also the time of year when residents are outside and so are deer ticks and tick-borne diseases.

Diedre Serene, Marion Coun­ty Public Health admin­istrator, said last year ticks were “really bad,” but so far this year she hasn’t heard a lot about ticks or the diseases they can carry.

“What we do more of at the health department is the results ticks and other insects can cause,” she said. “We deal more with the disease.

If the health department gets news of a reportable disease as a result of a tick bite, she said, then they will investigate it from beginning to completion.

Both Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease are tick-borne illnesses and once diagnosed, the specific county health department will contact the patient.

“Each disease,” she said, “has its own particular guidelines, so when we contact the patient, we find out whatever is relevant to the disease.”

One question the health department will ask a patient is about their travel within a certain timeframe for the incubation period, she said.

Serene said: “We will talk with them and ask how they might have been exposed to that disease and what treatment they are currently doing.”

Once a reportable disease is confirmed by lab testing, the health department will work with the patient’s physician and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment in finding out where it might have come from.

If KDHE monitors the disease, too, and it’s discovered a certain illness is occurring in one spot, then the health department will do public notification and other precautions, Serene said.

In the event Harvey Coun­ty has a cluster or issue with Lyme disease or another reportable disease, she said, the health department will communicate with neigh­boring counties.

What makes the investigation more challenging is that if someone is at Marion County Lake, she said, and they go home to Harvey or Sedgwick county where they live, then that county will do the investigation.

“Even though someone may have gotten the tick in Marion County, they now live in another county,” she said.

It’s a matter of working together as a team to determine where the person first contracted the disease.

One way the public is informed about tick-borne diseases is by having a Summer Safety Fair usually in conjunction with the Bluegrass Festival at the county lake, she said.

“We do the (program) in the morning, and we have reached a lot of people that are from out of town but come to the lake quite a bit and spend a lot of time here,” she said.

“To me (educating the out of town people) is as important as Marion County residents because they are residents while they are here.”

According to KDHE, 212 cases of tick-borne diseases including ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, spotted fever rickettsiosis, also known as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and Lyme disease were reported in Kansas last year.

Seventy-five of those patients were hospitalized, an official with KDHE said.

When outside and to protect against tick bites, Kansans are encouraged to:

• Wear protective clothing when practical (long sleeves and pants). Clothing should be light-colored to make ticks more visible.

• Insect repellents reduce the risk of being bitten. When outdoors, use insect repellant containing 20 to 30 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing for protection that lasts up to several hours.

• Ticks are usually found on vegetation close to the ground. In addition to regular mowing, avoid wooded or bushy areas with tall grass and leaf litter and walk in the center of trails.

• Check yourself at least every two hours for ticks when outside for extended periods of time. Pay special attention to areas in and around your hair, ears, armpits, groin, navel and backs of the knees.

Symptoms

Symptoms of tick-borne disease can include any unusual rash and unexplained flu-like symptoms, including fever, severe headaches, body aches and dizziness, KDHE officials said.

Prompt treatment with antibiotics can prevent serious illness or even death.

KDHE recommends seeing a physician as soon as possible if after having been bitten any of the above symptoms are experienced.

Not all ticks carry disease, but county and state official said it’s important for all individuals to protect themselves and take necessary precautions.

For more information, call KDHE at 877-427-7317 or go to the state website at: KDEks.gov.

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