Area health department investigates tick bite illness cases

Doctors stress the importance of tick checks after an increase in the number of tick-related illnesses and a death in our area.

The Pennyrile District Health Department in Kentucky serves Caldwell, Crittenden, Livingston, Lyon and Trigg counties. The health department’s numbers show it has already investigated 25 case so far this year. That’s up from 14 possible cases of tick-related illnesses in 2014. And there were 27 for the entire year in 2015.

The most common ticks in our area are deer ticks. Then there are the dog, blacklegged and lone star ticks. They can all carry viruses, and some are more likely to carry certain diseases than others.

Paul Kouts spent a lot of time in his yard in Eddyville cleaning up after wind storms. A few weeks ago, he had to stop after he got sick.

"I was trying to clean some of that up, and by Friday that week I just felt terrible when I got up," Kouts said.

Kouts’ friend Janice Fanke died last month from a virus caused by a tick bite. Fanke was also from our area. 

"I felt like I had the flu, and I got to thinking ‘Janice just died from a tick bite. I got to go get checked out,’" Kouts said.

Sure enough, Kouts had rocky mountain spotted fever caused by a tick bite.

Western Kentucky is a prime habitat for ticks, because they like the humid environment, and grassy, wooded areas.

"You may not have any indications of being sick right now, but you still have the illness resident in your body," said Pennyrile district Public Health Director Charles Hiter.

He says it’s possible to get bitten and test positive for a tick borne virus a year later. He also says more people are getting tested. 

"It could be people are hearing stories in the press or from their neighbors, and they’re going to get tested," Hiter said.

Hiter says if you were bitten by a tick and experience flu like symptoms, see your doctor right away.

Hiter also says a lot of people have misconceptions on how to remove a tick. The best way is to remove it with a pair of tweezers. If you can’t do that, it’s best to go to a doctor.

Ticks in our area can spread 11 different illnesses, including rocky mountain spotted fever and lyme disease. All those illnesses cause similar flu-like symptoms. So, the more you know about the tick that bit you, the easier it is for doctors to get you treated.

For symptoms and more information on what you should do to avoid ticks, the Center For Disease Control and Prevention has a page dedicated to tickborne illnesses.

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