Ticks have long been known to carry the bacterial agents that cause Lyme disease. Right now, however, there’s a different tick-borne illness that is raising a great deal of concern: Heartland virus. This virus is currently spreading through the Midwest and Southeastern U.S.
Other than supportive treatments, the medical community currently has no way to treat this virus. As we move into the warmer months, ticks are going to become more and more active. Now is the time to learn what you can do to protect your family and pets.
What is Heartland virus?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Heartland virus was first reported in Missouri in 2009. It is an RNA virus that is transmitted by the lone star tick. The initial symptoms can include headache, fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, nausea, diarrhea and muscle or joint pain. These symptoms may take up to two weeks to appear after a tick bite and can lead to hospitalization.
Some people may develop lower than normal counts of white blood cells and platelets, which are essential in fighting infections and clotting blood.
Although most individuals will fully recover with proper supportive care, older patients with medical comorbidities have died after contracting the virus.
Where is the Heartland virus?
On its website, the CDC states the heartland virus has been reported in Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
Testing and treatment for Heartland virus
Currently, there are no commercially available tests for Heartland virus infection. Molecular and serologic testing can only be performed at the CDC.
Also, there is no way to treat an infection directly. When seeking care, the patient will receive supportive help to relieve some of the symptoms, such as pain and fever. Additionally, intravenous fluids may be prescribed.
Prevention of Heartland virus
Since there is no treatment for Heartland virus, the only way to stay safe is through tick prevention. To do that, you must learn about ticks and their behavior.
Why do ticks need hosts?
Like any other living thing, ticks need to eat to stay alive. Unfortunately, their meals must consist of blood. A tick latches onto a host for no other reason than to feed.
How often do ticks feed?
As they travel through the four stages in their life cycle, a tick must eat once at each stage to survive. According to Pest World For Kids, a female lone star tick can lay anywhere between 3,000 to 5,000 eggs at a time. After hatching, the larvae can survive 279 days before needing to feed. A fully mature lone star tick, however, can live as long as 476 days between meals.
How do you get ticks?
Ticks cannot jump or fly. They must crawl onto an unsuspecting host. To do this, ticks climb out to the edge of a blade of grass or leaf and wait with outstretched legs for a potential host to pass by. When they do, the tick simply grabs hold and goes along for the ride. This means the most important thing you can do to avoid getting ticks is to stay away from areas that have tall grass or leaves. If there is a path in the woods, sticking to the middle of that path will help keep you tick-free. At home, this means regularly mowing your lawn.
How do ticks transfer a virus?
Once a tick is on a host, it can start feeding in just a few minutes, or it may take a few hours to find an ideal feeding spot. The best feeding spot is an area that is hidden and the skin is easy to puncture, such as under the arms, around the ears, inside the belly button, between the legs, around the waist or in the hair.
After finding a suitable spot to feed, a tick secretes a small amount of saliva with anesthetic properties, so the host doesn’t feel it cut through the skin and insert a feeding tube. The feeding tube may be barbed and the tick may also secrete a cement-like substance to keep it in place during the feeding.
While feeding, small amounts of saliva can enter the host. If the tick has a pathogen, it can be transmitted to the host at this time.
How long do ticks stay on you?
If undetected, an adult tick will remain attached and feed on the host for as long as 10 days. After feeding, ticks will drop off and prepare for the next stage in their life cycle.
What you need to protect your family and pets from ticks
Each dose of frontline can protect your dog from ticks and fleas for 30 days. It is a fast-acting, waterproof treatment for dogs that are older than 8 weeks and weigh 23-44 pounds. This offering comes with three doses.
Each dose of frontline can protect your cat from ticks and fleas for 30 days. It is a fast-acting, waterproof treatment for cats that are older than 8 weeks and weigh over 1.5 pounds. This offering comes with three doses.
This yard treatment from Black Flag is ready to spray — just connect to your garden hose, and you are all set. It kills fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and other insects for up to 12 weeks. One container treats up to 5,000 square feet.
While the best method of staying tick-free is to avoid the outdoors, sometimes that isn’t possible. To protect yourself, consider this spray that can repel ticks for up to 10 hours. This product can safely be applied to cotton, wool, nylon, acetate and spandex.
If you prefer an aerosol alternative, this Deep Woods spray from OFF! is easy to apply. It is formulated with 25% DEET. It can protect you from ticks, mosquitos, gnats, chiggers and more for up to eight hours.
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