Growing up we knew that ticks were yucky and left itchy bumps. Mostly, we were always just concerned about our pets getting infested, so they and the yard were treated for their well-being. Tick-borne illness was something that happened to folks in other states, like Colorado.

That is no longer the case, as longer warm seasons have allowed ticks to thrive and spread and bring their diseases with them. Now, even in Texas, we need to protect ourselves from the following tick-borne illnesses that have been reported:

There are six reportable tick-borne illnesses in Texas: babesiosis, ehrlichiosis (including anaplas- mosis), Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and tick-borne relapsing fever. Additionally, a Lyme-like illness known as STARI (Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness), transmit- ted by the Lone Star Tick, is reportable as Lyme disease.

Lyme disease has gotten a lot of press, and for good reason: it's debilitating, dangerous and very commonly under-diagnosed. Since Lyme is a bacteria, the treatment is antibiotics. But it isn't as simple as treating a cold.

Most patients are diagnosed late into having the disease. They've already developed severe joint pain, chronic fatigue and even Parkinson's like symptoms. Treating the symptoms, while loading a person up on massive antibiotics, isn't practical or particularly safe.

Of course, Lyme disease isn't the only terrible tick-borne illness in Texas. From experience, I can tell you how awful Rocky Mountain Fever is to animals.

My poor dog got Rocky Mountain Fever (in Colorado) two years back and almost didn't make it. I'll never forget the night I tried to hold her nose closed to keep the bleeding down while she coughed and choked. I was exhausted, scared and crying in a huge pool of blood from an animal I love dearly. Luckily, our vet was able to save her, and now she's a happy dingo once again.

Obviously, the best thing we can do know that deer ticks and their diseases are here to stay is to prevent bites. Ticks are picked up easily in certain circumstances:

Visitors to any undeveloped countryside are at considerable risk of being bitten by ticks that carry the Lyme disease bacteria. Ticks may also be picked up in high grass, on golf courses, school playgrounds, greenbelts, farms, ranches, and in private yards. Anyone who engages in outdoor pursuits may be exposed to Lyme disease and should take proper precautions.

That list includes almost anyone, so what are we to do? According to the Texas Lyme Disease Association:

When engaging in outdoor activities, wear light-colored clothing so that crawling ticks can be seen. Tuck pant legs into boots or socks so that ticks do not have access to skin and may more easily be seen. Use insect repellents with DEET or Permethrin (cream 5%) in high-risk areas. Use tick and flea preventatives on your pets. Inspect yourself, your children, and your pets frequently for ticks, and remove any attached ticks promptly using proper removal procedures.Avoid areas with high grass. When hiking, stay on the trails. Do not sit on stone walls. Wear shoes, not sandals.

And, as you probably know, a tick needs to be removed with tweezers or forceps. Leaving the embedded mouthparts in the skin is dangerous.

Be safe this summer. Avoid ticks while you explore the great outdoors here in Texas. For more information, Texas Lyme Disease Association is an excellent source.

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