State warning Hoosiers of new tick-borne illness

The Indiana State Department of Health is warning southern Indiana residents and visitors about a new virus that’s apparently being transmitted by ticks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed two cases of Heartland virus infection in Indiana over the past two years.

Both patients were residents of southern Indiana and survived their infections, the state health department reported.

The most common signs and symptoms are fever with flu-like symptoms, and decreases in blood cells that are important in blood clotting and fighting infection.

Only a small number of Heartland virus cases have been detected nationally, with others reported in Missouri, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Most cases have required hospitalization.

“Tick bites can cause serious illness and even death,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams. “If you become ill after spending time outdoors, visit your health care provider immediately — especially if you found an attached tick. Prompt diagnosis of tick-borne illness helps prevent complications.”

Ticks tend to be most active during late spring and early summer.

In 2016, Indiana reported more than 200 cases of tick-borne illness. Other area tick-borne diseases include Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

“It’s really important to avoid tick bites and conduct thorough tick checks during and after time outdoors—even if you’re in your own backyard,” said state public health veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Brown, in a press release.

Reduce the risk of tick bites by:

Avoiding direct contact with ticks by staying away from wooded, brushy areas and walking in the center of trails;

Using repellents with active ingredients such as DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus; and

Applying products containing 0.5 percent permethrin to clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents.

After outdoor activities, the state health department recommends doing full-body tick checks using a mirror, and checking pets, coats and day packs for unattached ticks.

Tumbling dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 20 minutes will kill unattached ticks on clothing, the state health department says.

Attached ticks can be safely removed by using tweezers to grasp the tick close to the skin and then pulling outward with steady, even pressure. After the tick is removed, wash the area thoroughly.

Discard each tick by submerging it in rubbing alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag or container, wrapping it tightly in tape or flushing it down the toilet. Ticks should not be crushed with the fingernails, the state health department says.