Ticks that carry Lyme disease and other illnesses are showing up earlier and in more places. Laborers working at outdoor construction sites need to be vigilant about protecting themselves from these parasites.
Being familiar with the varieties of ticks that are common to an area is essential. Ticks have distinctive markings and some carry pathogens that cause at least 14 diseases in humans. If you become ill from a tick bite, knowing what a particular tick looks like can speed your diagnosis and treatment.
It is also important to be aware that some ticks transmit more than one pathogen and that some diseases are transmitted by more than one kind of tick. Here are some examples:
If you find a tick on you, removing it promptly and properly will reduce your risk for becoming ill:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick as this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area, the tweezers and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or soap and water.
The blacklegged tick and its close cousin on the Pacific Coast, the western blacklegged tick (both are more commonly called deer ticks), transmit Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne illness in North America. About 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported in the United States every year, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the real number of cases is more like 300,000.
Lyme disease can cause chronic arthritis, impaired memory and heart rhythm irregularities. When treated with the appropriate antibiotics in its early stages, people with Lyme disease usually make a complete recovery. Unfortunately, this window of opportunity is often lost. Like many tick-borne diseases, initial symptoms of Lyme disease mimic other more common illnesses and are often misdiagnosed.
Early symptoms of Lyme disease include:
- Rash: A small, red bump may appear at the site of the tick bite. Over the next few days it could expand, forming a rash in a bull’s-eye pattern (a red outer ring surrounding a clear area). Some people develop this rash at more than one spot. Others never develop a rash or don’t notice it, as it may appear somewhere on the body that is covered by hair.
- Flu-like symptoms: Fever, chills, fatigue, body aches and a headache.
Later symptoms include:
- Joint pain: Knees are especially likely to be affected, but the pain can shift from one joint to another.
- Neurological problems: These include inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain (meningitis), temporary paralysis on one side of the face (Bell’s palsy) and numbness or weakness in limbs and muscles.
Blacklegged ticks are among the varieties of ticks that transmit multiple pathogens. Anyone being tested or treated for Lyme disease should also be tested for anaplasmosis, babesiosis and borrelia miyamotoi as it is possible to be co-infected.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever
Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which has been documented in 39 states, Washington, D.C. and southwestern Canada, is an example of a tick-borne disease that has multiple hosts. If you are bitten by the Rocky Mountain wood tick, the American dog tick or the brown dog tick, you are at risk for Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever causes flu-like symptoms to develop two to 14 days after a person has been infected. The disease gets it name from the red, non-itchy rash that usually appears on the feet and wrists several days into the illness and then spreads. Rocky Mountain spotted fever has a 75 percent death rate when it isn’t promptly diagnosed and treated.
Protect yourself from these and all tick-borne diseases:
- Wear light-colored clothing to help find ticks more easily.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Wear a hat in areas with lots of vegetation.
- Wear closed footwear and socks. Tuck pants into socks.
- Use a repellent with DEET (on skin or clothing) or permethrin (on clothing and gear). Repellents containing 20 percent or more DEET can be applied to the skin and can protect for several hours. Some clothing can also be purchased pre-treated. Treated items can remain protective through several washings. (Always wash them separately from other laundry.)
- Inspect your entire body immediately after outdoor work or after spending time outdoors in general. Pay special attention to:
- In and around ears
- Behind knees
- Areas with body hair
- Navel and groin areas
- Take a shower immediately after being outdoors.
- Put clothes in the dryer for one hour on high heat to kill any ticks.
- Check equipment and gear outside for ticks.
- Wear gloves when handling dead animals.
- If you find a tick, remove it immediately and inform your employer so other workers in your crew can be informed.
- If you develop flu-like symptoms or a rash, contact your doctor immediately.
The LHSFNA’s Health Alert on Lyme disease provides information that Laborers can use to help protect against all tick-borne illnesses. To order this or other Fund publications, go to www.lhsfna.org and click on Publications.
The CDC has a manual that provides an in-depth look at all of the tick-borne diseases in North America. Download it here.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]