Springfield doctor warns of tick-borne illnesses during mild winter

Published: Dec. 10, 2019 at 4:57 AM CST
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A warmer winter means it's less likely insects will die off. Doctor John Brown, the Travel Physician with Mercy Hospital in Springfield, said mild winters are the main reason people across the Ozarks need to keep an eye out for any ticks and illnesses associated with them.

"Ticks don't actually die off in the winter," began Doctor Brown. "They just kind of burrow down into the leaf litter in the forest and they tough it out." Brown explained it only takes a slight temperature increase to bring those bugs out of hiding.

Brown said in addition to watching out for the bugs themselves, people will also want to watch out for symptoms of tick-borne illnesses.

Missouri leads the nation in the number of Ehrlichiosis cases every year. Ehrlichiosis is a tick-borne illness that stems from the lone-star tick. The tick has a spot on its back. The lone-star tick calls the woods in Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas its home. "It infects about 1,500 people every year here in Missouri," said Brown about the illness.

Symptoms of Ehrlichiosis include fever, chills, nausea and headaches. The symptoms can often be associated with other illnesses, like the flu, which delays response times. However, once it is noticed, it is treatable.

During an interview in May of 2018, Doctor Brown told KY3 and KSPR News the number one key to prevention is using sprays and repellents containing a 30-35% concentration of deet. He also recommends people pre-treat clothing with Permethrin. "You can spray that in the early fall or later summer and it will stay in the clothing that you hike with through several washings," said Brown. He also said people should cover themselves, wearing long pants and long sleeves while hiking or doing any outdoor activities. Lastly, he recommended pet owners continue to take proper precautions with flea and tick treatments.

If someone believes they may have a tick-borne illness, they are encouraged to see a doctor immediately.

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