ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md., June 6, 2013 – High grass creates an ideal habitat for hungry ticks, and also provides the potential to cause serious human and animal disease.
Ticks can thrive in long grasses, according to Ellen Stromdahl, an entomologist with the U.S. Army Public Health Command here.
Stromdahl also manages the Department of Defense’s Human Tick Test Kit Program.
Although most ticks are not infected with human disease, she said, some ticks in the United States can carry Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and viral diseases.
Infected ticks have to attach to a person and remain on that individual for one to three days in order to transmit most diseases, Stromdahl said. One of the first things people can do to prevent a tick bite, she said, is to recognize tick habitat, and avoid it.
“Ticks stay in — or on the edge of — shady, brushy areas,” Stromdahl said. “You can find them in tall grass — especially in wooded areas. They need layered shade and moist air.” Stromdahl also recommends the use of insect repellent to prevent tick bites.
“For maximum protection, use DEET repellent on your skin, and permethrin repellent on your clothing,” she said. “Permethrin-treated clothing is the best defense against tick bites. When ticks touch the treated fabric, they try to get away as quickly as possible. If they stay on the treated fabric, they die.”
Permethrin clothing spray can be found in hunting sections of stores, Stromdahl said, and permethrin-treated clothing is available from major outdoor clothing suppliers.
Another step to preventing tick bites involves checking belongings, she said.
“If you have been in tick habitat, leave your shoes outside and don’t leave your clothes near your bed,” Stromdahl said. “You’ll be giving ticks the whole night to find you. Ticks may survive on clothes in the washing machine, but a hot cycle in the dryer will kill ticks.”
She also recommends bathing or showering as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on the body. Army preventive medicine experts say that prompt removal of a tick is one way to reduce the risk of disease transmission.
“When patients locate an engorged tick on them, they should not panic and should take their time to remove the tick properly,” said Staff Sgt. Arvey Jones, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the preventive medicine section at the Kirk Army Clinic here.
“If you remove attached ticks promptly, you can prevent tick-borne disease,” Jones said. Stromdahl recommends certain guidelines when removing a tick.
“Remove the tick with tweezers,” she said. “Do not burn it or use soap, gasoline, Vaseline or other chemicals. Once the tick is removed, thoroughly cleanse the bite with alcohol and apply antibiotic ointment to the bite.”
Most tick bites will cause irritation and itching immediately, but this does not indicate disease transmission, Stromdahl said. Ticks that have been removed from people should be saved for identification and testing, she said, and military personnel and DOD civilians should place the tick in a jar or zip-lock bag, and take it to the local military medical treatment facility. The facility will forward the tick to the U.S. Army Public Health Command here.
The Health Command will identify the tick and then perform disease testing of the insect through the DOD Human Tick Test Kit Program, Stromdahl said. The results of identification will be reported to the submitting military treatment facility upon receipt of the tick, and test results — negative and positive — will be reported within a week.
The U.S. Army Public Health Command focuses on promoting health and preventing disease, injury and disability in soldiers and military retirees, their families and Army civilian employees.
The command also is responsible for effective execution of full-spectrum veterinary services throughout the DOD.