A state health official is warning South Dakotans to be aware of tick-borne illness as they head outdoors this spring.

Amblyomma americanum image/ CDC
Amblyomma americanum image/ CDC

“Every year we see cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia and other tick-borne diseases in South Dakota. Last year was a particularly bad year for tularemia with 25 total cases when we typically see seven cases a year,” said Dr. Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist for the Department of Health. “The best way to protect yourself when you’re outdoors is to check for ticks often and remove them right away. Tucking pants into your socks and spraying clothes and exposed skin with repellent can also reduce your risk.”

The department investigated two cases of Lyme disease and two of Rocky Mountain spotted fever in addition to the 25 cases of tularemia in 2015, the most tularemia cases in over 30 years. Kightlinger said most areas of South Dakota are not suitable habitat for the Ioxdes deer tick that carries Lyme disease, as it prefers more heavily forested areas such as those in Wisconsin and Minnesota. South Dakota Lyme disease cases have typically had deer tick bites out of state.

A tick bite is a small, painless red bump with a bright red halo. If a tick is attached, remove it with tweezers or tissue, pulling slowly and steadily, being careful not to crush it. Then apply antiseptic to prevent infection. If you use bare hands wash thoroughly with warm, soapy water and avoid touching your eyes before washing.

Symptoms of tick-borne illness include sudden onset of a moderate-to-high fever, stiff neck, deep muscle pain, arthritis, fatigue, severe headache, chills, a rash on the arms and legs or around the site of the bite, and swollen lymph nodes, particularly in the neck. If you develop any of these symptoms after a tick bite, see your doctor.

Other precautions include:
•    Check small children thoroughly for ticks when they’ve been outside or had contact with pets or livestock that may have ticks.
•    Use insecticides and collars to protect pets from ticks and limit the number they carry into the home. Apply insecticides and tick repellents to pet bedding.
•    Check your animals frequently for ticks. Remove ticks from animals using forceps or tweezers to apply constant traction. If you must use your fingers, wear disposable gloves then wash hands thoroughly with soap and water.