In Tennessee, the arrival of summer means lightning bugs, but it also means mosquitos and ticks. Tick populations have been rising, and diseases spread by ticks are a growing concern in Tennessee.
WellTuned spoke to Dr. Ian Bushell, a family medicine physician and medical director with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, to learn more about Tennessee’s ticks and how you can avoid them – and the diseases they spread.
Ticks in Tennessee
Dr. Bushell: Ticks are all over Tennessee. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that Tennessee is home to six key tick species. Here’s what you might encounter in various part of the state—and the diseases they’re known to spread:
Type of tick Disease(s) spread
American Dog Tick (Wood Tick) Tularemia and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Asian Longhorned Tick Nothing that affects humans
Black-legged Tick (Deer Tick) Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Powassan virus
Brown Dog Tick Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Gulf Coast Tick Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Lone Star Tick Ehrlichiosis, tularemia, Heartland virus, STARI, and Alpha-gal Syndrome
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is the most severe kind of Spotted Fever Rickettsioses (SFR), which is the most common type of tick-borne disease spread in Tennessee. However, other common tick-borne diseases in Tennessee include ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease and anaplasmosis.
How to avoid getting a tick-borne disease
Dr. Bushell: Many people check their ankles when scanning their bodies for ticks, but ticks are sneaky. They can hide and attach anywhere on your body, but they particularly like the warmer areas. So, you have to check your entire body, including your armpits and your genitals.
1. Know where to expect ticks
You can expect to encounter ticks in brushy or wooded areas, like forests, but they also lurk in grassy fields. You can have ticks in your own back yard. That’s why it’s important to check yourself (and your children and your pets) for ticks whenever you spend time outside.
2. Wear the right clothes
Dress to reduce the chances of ticks getting to your skin. That means wearing long sleeves, long pants and tall socks. Tuck your shirttail into your pants, and you might even tuck your pant legs into your socks. Wear closed-toed shoes, too. If you are going to be in an area known for ticks, consider treating your clothing with a product containing permethrin. You can spray it on your clothes, shoes, and camping gear and let it dry. The protective effect will last for several washings.
3. Use tick repellant
The Tennessee Department of Health recommends EPA-registered insect repellents, which are repellants that contain one of these substances:
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)
- Para-menthane-diol (PMD)
4. Check yourself
When you come inside, check yourself carefully for ticks, especially in the hard-to-see places. Use a mirror to help you do a full-body check. You might even take a shower so you can get a better look at your whole body.
Check the folds of your clothes for ticks. Tip: you can put your clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any hidden ticks.
5. Treat your yard
If you know you have ticks in your yard, you may want to apply a pesticide. However, it’s a good idea to check with your local health department or agricultural officials about the right type of pesticide to use—and when to use it.
What do you do if you find a tick on yourself?
Dr. Bushell: If you find a tick on your body, remove it as soon as possible. Your risk of catching a disease from an infected tick that bites you increases the longer that the tick remains embedded on your skin. Aim to remove it within one to two hours.
To remove the tick, use a pair of tweezers to pinch it as close to your skin as possible and slowly pull it straight out. Put the tick in a plastic bag to save in case you develop any symptoms over the next few days. Identifying the kind of tick may help your doctor decide how to treat a potential infection.
The bottom line
Dr. Bushell: Do the best that you can to avoid ticks, but don’t panic. Not all ticks carry disease, so you won’t automatically get sick if you do get bitten.
And if you do get bitten by an infected tick, you can be treated. When detected early, tick-borne disease can be easily treated with antibiotics.
Since it’s impossible to tell if a tick is carrying an infection, pay attention to any rashes, fevers, aches and pains over the next several days to weeks if you do get bitten. See your doctor—and bring along the bag with the tick in it if you develop any symptoms or notice anything unusual.
Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.