On the lookout for ticks

The return of warmer weather means more individuals and pet owners have discovered parasitic ticks hitching a ride on their bodies.

Since January, Altoona Regional Health System officials have seen about 40 patients with complaints of tick bites, said Shaun Sheehan, assistant medical director of the Department of Emergency Medicine.

Certain types of ticks can attach themselves to a host and potentially transmit Lyme disease, which can cause cardiac and neurological problems.

“All age groups are affected by Lyme disease,” Sheehan said.

Individuals between the ages of 5 and 10 years old and 35 to 55 years old are the two groups most susceptible to tick bites, Sheehan said. That’s because the younger group might not be checked as closely for ticks and the older group is more likely to be working outdoors.

Ticks thrive in long grass and wooded areas and can be carried on deer, mice and other animals.

Hosts can be bitten any time they are outdoors, including hiking through wooded areas or even mowing the grass.

Robert Furio, owner of Furio Remodeling in Altoona, said his four employees are constantly checking themselves for ticks while working on outdoor jobs.

“So far, they’ve been pretty bad,” Furio said of the ticks. “Especially in wooded areas.”

Furio and his employees are avid hunters and are used to checking themselves for ticks after being in the woods.

“They’re all very familiar with it,” Furio said.

Not every tick bite in humans requires immediate medical attention. The tick has to be connected for about 36 hours to transmit Lyme disease, Sheehan said.

Unless individuals notice a rash where the bite occurred or flu-like symptoms including a headache, stiff joints and fever, removing the tick within 24 hours should prevent a trip to the emergency room for humans, Sheehan said.

“Just take a quick moment and check for ticks after you come back into the house and that will prevent a lot worries,” Sheehan said.

Pet owners also need to be watchful for ticks, because animals are also susceptible to Lyme disease.

“The tick population is just overwhelming at this point,” said Denise Nickodemus, a veterinarian at Lakemont Veterinary Clinic.

Last year, the clinic saw about 200 positive cases of Lyme disease in dogs. Since January, about 40 animals have tested positive for Lyme disease there, she said.

“The first thing to do is remove the tick,” Nickodemus said, noting the sooner it is removed, the less likely the parasite can transmit the disease.

Nickodemus recommended pets be examined by a veterinarian at least three to four weeks after a tick is detected.

While topical medications are an effective prevention tool for pets, the parasites can be “anywhere” and all outdoor pets are susceptible to their bite, Nickodemus said.