Tick: Hot weather good news

The increase is likely driven by better recognition from doctors.
Sunday, August 12, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:01 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

KANSAS CITY — Here’s another reason to stay inside and out of the heat — reported cases of tick-borne diseases have jumped this year in Missouri.

Driven in large part by increased recognition from doctors and more houses built in old forests, the diseases are being reported at a rate far higher than the five-year average.

For example, the state has received reports of 117 cases of ehrlichiosis, compared to the annual average of 40. They’ve also received reports of 186 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, compared with the normal 64; 18 cases of tularemia, compared to 12; and 35 cases of Lyme disease instead of the normal 22.

“South of the Missouri River is seeing more activity than north of the Missouri River with a few notable exceptions, including Boone County and Clay County,” said Karen Yates, the state’s vector-borne disease program coordinator. “I think that relates a lot to the accessibility of health care.”

Barbara Dawson, communicable disease nurse for the Clay County Public Health Center, said the county this year has received reports of six cases of ehrlichiosis and nine of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, although not all of them are confirmed.

Dawson said reported cases are generally based on where the victim’s doctor is, not where the victim lives. But she thought the increase is likely because of better reporting.

“And there are a lot of woods up here,” she said, “so there are a lot of places ticks can be.”

The woods likely make a difference as the increase of tick-borne diseases in neighboring Kansas is much lower. Joe Blubaugh, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said the state has recorded 13 cases of the four different diseases, more than double the normal amount.

The diseases affect people differently, experts said. Children are more susceptible to Rocky Mountain spotted fever while ehrlichiosis is more dangerous to people over the age of 40. Yates said people with compromised immune systems, either because of illness or medical treatment, can easily develop infections from these diseases.

The good news is that the recent rash of hot weather has the tick population in retreat, Yates said. But when the weather cools off, the risk will return until fall when sustained temperatures of 45 degrees or lower ends the tick season.

Until then, Yates recommends avoiding wooded and bushy areas with tall grass, wearing long pants and long sleeves and using insect repellents that contain 20 percent to 50 percent DEET.

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