Body Health: Beware of What You Might Bring In from The Great Outdoors

by Gretchen Arnoczy, M.D.

Planning on hiking, camping or gardening this summer? If so, be careful of ticks and your risk for tick-borne diseases. 

Tick-borne diseases are especially common in the summer.

These diseases can progress very quickly. They can become serious, even life-threatening, say physicians at FirstHealth of the Carolinas. But, you can take steps to help prevent these illnesses.

“It’s important to check for ticks after spending time outdoors hiking or gardening,” says Gretchen Arnoczy, M.D., infectious disease specialist at FirstHealth of the Carolinas. “In both the summer and fall, ticks are something we should pay a lot of attention to as tick-borne diseases are very prevalent in the Sandhills.”

According to Dr. Arnoczy, the two most common tick-borne diseases in the Sandhills are Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Ehrlichia. “Lyme disease can be found in North Carolina, but it is more common in the Northeast U.S.,” she adds.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is named for the spotted rash that can appear after the bite of an infected tick. Despite the name, it doesn’t always have a rash. It almost always has a fever.

“Ehrlichia is sometimes called “Rocky Mountain spotless fever, because it does not cause that rash,” says Dr. Arnoczy. “Both can cause headache and fever. Ehrlichia can also cause fatigue.” 

The Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever rash does not always appear and early symptoms can be subtle. 

“So if you’ve had tick exposure and you get a fever and headache you should see your doctor to see if you should start treatment,” she says. “Blood tests in Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are often negative early in the disease but treatment is lifesaving.”

The good news is that treatments are very effective when started early. The treatment of choice is doxycycline, a prescription drug taken by mouth.

If you find a tick, remove it with tweezers. 

“Try to grasp it at the head, but do not squeeze the contents back into your skin,” says Dr. Arnoczy. “If a little of the head remains, the body will usually react to work it out over a few days.”

Use rubbing alcohol or soap and water to clean the area of the bite and your hands well.

To prevent tick bites, Dr. Arnoczy recommends checking yourself once a day. 

“Nymph ticks are baby ticks, and they are more common in the spring and early summer,” she adds. “They are so small you might miss them.”

Common tick hiding places are under the arms and behind the knees, in and around the ears, in the belly button, between the legs, around the waist, and on the hairline and scalp. It can also be helpful to shower after being outdoors.

“The most important thing is to find and remove ticks as soon as possible,” says Dr. Arnoczy.

Dr. Arnoczy deals with a variety of infectious diseases – from annual outbreaks of flu to HIV/AIDS, and the threat of exotic conditions that make the news, like Ebola and Zika. She joined Moore Regional Hospital’s medical staff in 2010. 

For more information, visit www.firsthealth.org/infectiousdiseases.