Tick infestations prompt warnings of tick-borne diseases

If you experience symptoms of tick bite fever go to the doctor immediately. Photo: File Image

Heavy tick infestations are being reported by visitors to areas such as the Botswana Central Kalahari Game reserves and the Waterberg in Limpopo, and Netcare travel clinics have cautioned travellers to these regions to take measures to protect themselves from tick-borne diseases.

“There is uncertainty as to what has caused these infestations but it has been suggested that the high rainfall and temperatures that have been prevalent in these areas in recent weeks, as well as the lack of veld fires may have contributed to these infestations,” said Dr Pete Vincent of Netcare travel clinics and Medicross family medical and dental centres, Tokai.

“Whatever the cause of the infestations, it should be kept in mind that ticks commonly carry diseases such as spotted fever rickettsiosis, or tick bite fever, and occasionally the more dangerous Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, which is fortunately not common in our country.

“However, African tick bite fever is a commonly reported infection in South Africa, where it is endemic in areas such as the East Coast, Free State, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, Drakensberg area and the Kruger National Park.

“Visitors to any bushveld areas of the country that have experienced high rainfalls in recent weeks, including the northern regions of South Africa and neighbouring countries, should, therefore, be vigilant of ticks and tick-bite fever, and take precautions against being bitten by these parasitic arthropods.”

He said that it is advisable for those who go on hikes or walks through long grass, or who come in close contact with cattle and other animals, to be particularly careful.

“Inspect your clothes and body for ticks immediately after potential exposure, particularly on the legs, groin and hair line while in an area where there may be ticks.

“Extracting any ticks as soon as possible using tweezers can greatly reduce the chances of becoming infected with a tick-borne disease,” added Dr Vincent.

 

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“One can also take other precautions before going for walks, such as wearing long trousers that are tucked into long socks and boots or closed shoes.

“A tick repellent spray product containing pyrethroid can also be sprayed onto clothing and leggings, and onto tent groundsheets.”

According to Dr Vincent, the severity of tick bite fever can vary widely, but if it is not treated promptly, it is often a debilitating illness, running its course over two weeks or so, and cause high fevers, muscle pain, rashes and severe headaches.

The incubation period is usually eight days and an infected bite usually forms a black centre (eschar) with tender swollen local lymph nodes.

“Those who have been bitten by a tick and who develop such symptoms should urgently seek medical attention.

“Treatment is usually with a tetracycline antibiotic which should minimise the impact of the illness and prevent any possible complications,” he said.

 

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