American Osteopathic Association

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Poll: Majority of Americans Acknowledge Ticks as a Health Threat But Few Try to Prevent Bites

Risks on the Rise: Ticks Spread More than Lyme Disease and the Infections Are Tough to Diagnose and Treat

CHICAGO, June 20, 2017—In the war on tick-borne diseases, overconfidence is putting humans at a disadvantage, according to osteopathic physicians, who stress the need to prevent bites to avoid life-threatening illnesses.

A recent online survey of over 2,000 U.S. adults, conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association, found that while 84 percent of Americans understand the threats posed by Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, 71 percent think it is unlikely they will contract any of those illnesses in their lifetime. 

More concerning, only 43 percent of Americans report thorough and regular application of DEET-based products or other repellants when outdoors in areas where ticks may be present, despite increases in potentially fatal illnesses including Powassan virus and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which caused the recent death of an Indiana toddler. Experts warn that the early symptoms of tick-borne illnesses make them difficult to diagnose and delaying treatment can be fatal in rare cases.

“Part of the challenge for parents is the non-specific nature of the symptoms, particularly in children. A child with a fever could have any number of relatively benign conditions, but a child with a fever who’s been playing in the woods might have Powassan or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which if not diagnosed and treated early, can be fatal, said Rob Danoff, DO, a family medicine physician and program director of the  Family Medicine/Emergency Medicine residency programs at Aria Jefferson Health in Philadelphia.

“Ticks can be as small as poppy seeds, the bites don’t hurt and the symptoms are often initially vague and may be thought to be from other causes, so we need to send a strong message about the importance of prevention,” Dr. Danoff noted.

Understanding the Biggest Threat

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a tick-borne disease caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii. Blacklegged ticks and the rarer western blacklegged ticks, which carry the Lyme bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, are now found in half of all U.S. counties, though transmission remains highest in the Northeast and Upper Midwest states. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that the annual number of new cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. currently exceeds 300,000.

When outdoors, you should be wary of ticks and their highly infectious bites, which can cause Lyme disease—the most common tick-borne illness in the U.S., according to the CDC.

While not all ticks carry disease, some may spread multiple infections in a single bite. Other tick-borne diseases include babesiosis, anaplasmosis, bartonella and the rare but serious Powassan, which health experts say is on the upswing this spring.

Tips to Prevent Bites

While the type of tick-borne disease varies by region, protective practices are standard and should be implemented regularly.

  • Watch your step: Avoid wooded, bushy areas with long grass where deer ticks tend to live.
  • Cover yourself: When walking in the woods, wear long pants and long sleeves, a hat and gloves. Tuck your pants into your socks.
  • Wear tick repellant on your skin: Effective tick repellant products contain 20-30% DEET, Picaridin or IR3535, all of which are applied onto the skin.
  • Treat your clothing: Spray permethrin on your shoes, clothes and hats. This ingredient targets the insect’s nervous system and has low toxicity to mammals. Spray it on your clothes, shoes or hats, but avoid contact with skin. You can also buy pre-treated clothing. Note: Permethrin is toxic to cats, so keep it away from them.
  • Tick-proof your yard: Clear leaves and brush from your yard to avoid making a home for ticks.
  • Check your clothes and skin: After a walk in the woods or in tall grass, conduct a thorough check of skin and hair. Remember that ticks like moist, warm areas such as the groin, armpits and scalp and they can be tiny, so make sure to search carefully.
  • Hit the showers: Ticks often stay on your skin for hours before attaching themselves, so a prompt shower may be enough to remove any unattached ones.

About the American Osteopathic Association

The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) represents more than 129,000 osteopathic physicians (DOs) and osteopathic medical students; promotes public health; encourages scientific research; serves as the primary certifying body for DOs; and is the accrediting agency for osteopathic medical schools. Visit DoctorsThatDO.org to learn more about osteopathic medicine.

Survey Methodology:  

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of AOA from May 31-June 2, 2017 among 2,110 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Jeff Brennan.

Media Contact:  

Jeff Brennan
(312) 202-8161
jbrennan@osteopathic.org

 

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