HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – The official summer season starts on June 21, but another has already begun: tick season. One infectious disease specialist explained to News 19 why it’s so important to stay protected from the bugs.
Tick-borne diseases are on the rise across the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most commonly, they carry Lyme Disease, but for Alabamians, that’s not the case.
“Lyme disease is a huge issue in the upper Northeast and it’s not a significant issue here in the South. What we see more here is Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis,” Dr. Jonathan Rayner told News 19.
Rayner is an Associate Professor with the University of South Alabama in the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases.
Over the past 30 years, the Alabama Department of Public Health reports a steady increase in the number of Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis cases from just single digits, to hundreds.
Dr. Rayner says while cases could or could not be going up, the number of people getting tested is definitely increasing.
“Over the years, the ability to diagnose these things have improved, so when people go to the doctor’s, they might actually be tested for a specific pathogen,” Rayner said.
One exception are 2020’s numbers, which took a major dip from 476 in 2019, to just 90 in 2020. Rayner attributes that to the pandemic keeping more people out of doctor’s offices for diagnoses and infectious disease specialists potentially moving efforts towards COVID.
One carrier of Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis is the Gulf Coast tick. While an uncommon type, the association they have with the disease though, is around 50%
Names can be deceiving. Rayner says in the past four years of a tick-tracking program they’ve run at the University of South Alabama, Gulf Coast ticks pop up all over the state.
“Of the 73 we found, most of them were in northern counties,” Rayner said.
The potentially deadly Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is part of the Spotted Fever Rickettsioses family, but Rayner says most Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis illnesses can be easily treated with antibiotics.
No matter what illness it is though, if you’re exposed to a tick bite and notice any changes, from a rash, to flu-like symptoms, he said to take action.
“if you’re starting to show signs, see a clinician and let the clinician know you’ve been exposed to a tick,” He said. “Recognition, how timely that treatment can be, can have a significant impact on an individual’s outcome.”
Being proactive, however, is best.
“If you’re going in the woods and you can wear long clothes, pants long shirts, boots with high socks, anything that would protect or keep the tick from entering, but it’s Alabama and it’s really really hot so everyone’s out in their shorts so one of the best protections is insect repellant.”
He said for adults with kids, and the parents themselves, a tick-check from head to toe is important after being outdoors.
“We want our kids to be outside and athletic and healthy, but you want to make sure they’re taking the proper precautions. It’s the same thing with your pets, flea and tick medicines are very valuable”
While they may not be able to send the results back to you, Rayner said if you would like to submit ticks that you find on your person to their Tick Tracker program, you can tape them to a piece of paper and mail them to the address below:
Department of Biology, 5871 USA Drive North
LSCB Room 124
University of South Alabama
Mobile AL 36688