With area residents and their furry friends taking advantage of above-average temperatures, Northwest Georgia Public Health officials are stressing preventative measures to ward off an active tick population. While it is too early to determine its severity, this year's tick season started earlier than usual due to the mild winter months.
"Summertime is tick time in Georgia and it looks like we may be having earlier summer-like weather this year even though it's still spring," said Logan Boss, public information officer for Northwest Georgia Public Health. "... When you see more human activity outside, that's when they become more of a problem. Ticks are funny little creatures. They don't fly. They can't jump or leap. They don't climb very high, so they're seldom found high above ground. They hang on low-hanging vegetation and when we walk by or ride a bicycle by they stick out their hook-like claws and latch on and then they climb up on us. So the best way to avoid tick bites, of course, would be to stay in areas where the vegetation is open or maintained below ankle height.
"[Also], try and stay on walking trails that are mowed and if you're out hiking avoid vegetation brushing against your legs. Now, of course, that's not always possible, so we recommend that people, if possible, wear long-legged pants, wear socks ... [and] treat your socks and treat your pants legs up to the knee if you're wearing long pants with products that contain DEET or Permethrin, which are probably the two best tick repellents. For additional protection, tuck your pant cuffs into your socks -- that keeps ticks on the treated surface of your clothing and off your skin. And you can put some repellents on your body. Target your feet, your legs, your waistline, but always follow the directions for the repellent very carefully, especially when applying repellents to children."
Along with showering after coming inside, area residents also are encouraged to perform routine checks for ticks on themselves and their pets. If a tick is spotted, Boss recommends a person remove the tick from their skin as soon as possible with tweezers.
Along with practicing the aforementioned steps, people also need to apply preventative measures on their pets to curb ticks from being tracked indoors. At Bartow County Animal Control, Director Debbie Elrod said they currently are seeing ticks on their retrieved canines about four to six weeks ahead of schedule.
"What you need to do is contact your vet. They make several different types of medicines out there that you can get," said Elrod, referring to flea/tick preventative treatments like Frontline. "... Something that's put on the nap of the neck and the body takes it in and it starts getting rid of things. And [they also] make all types of dips but dips, they can affect animals in different ways. So depending on how old they are and just what type of situation they're dealing with, they really need to contact the vet and find out what's recommended for an animal of that age or whatever it is so they're not giving it something that can harm them.
"[Ticks] can cause tick paralysis. If they're covered in ticks, they could literally die from it if nothing's done about it. And tick paralysis, it can literally put them down where they can't get up and move around."
Referring to them as "little vampires," Boss explained ticks require a continual intake of blood to survive and reproduce. With the Bartow community venturing outdoors to partake in a wide range of activities, Boss urges the public to take precaution because the tick-borne illnesses can have severe, if not deadly, affects if gone unnoticed.
"Statewide, each year we have anywhere from 50 to 80 suspected cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, in addition to a few cases of Lyme disease," Boss said, noting from 2005 to 2011 Bartow reported less than five cases apiece of Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. "[The diseases] are pretty severe. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, if left untreated can be fatal.
"... [In] the diseases most often associated with ticks in Georgia [Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease], typically you will experience a rash, the onset of flu-like symptoms, including severe headaches and a fever, just a general flu-like condition. So we caution people -- if you have any of these symptoms following a tick bite ... [to] see a doctor promptly."