Stone County ranks No. 4 among the state’s 75 counties in terms of tick-borne illnesses.
And that warrants “a high index of suspicion” when it comes to the way doctors determine what ails you, according to Dr. James Zini, the county’s public health officer for the Arkansas Department of the Health (ADH).
ADH ranks counties on a per-capita (100,000 pop,) basis in order to levelize comparisons by county.
Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis is the most prevalent of eight tick-borne diseases tracked by the state, accounting for 1,085 reported illnesses among 1,443 illnesses attributable to ticks.
Here’s the top six counties in terms of illness: Sharp, 92.1; Montgomery, 58.93; Searcy, 51.1; Stone, 48.55; Franklin, 46.79; Calhoun, 42.2.
The state changed its case definition criteria starting in 2020 resulting in lower totals, but the same six rural counties remain at the top.
Zini says people who venture into grassy areas and thickets can take a couple of precautions to ward off ticks.
“I think the repellents are very helpful and can help us not get ticks even though we are in their environment,” Zini said. “Putting your pants legs inside the socks seems so simple, but it helps ticks not be able to crawl under clothing, and that too can be very helpful in preventing tick bites.”
“I have also felt in recent years that we are seeing more tick problems year-round even during winter months. By having a high index of suspicion of symptoms have helped prevent patients from tick borne illness by administering medication in the form of doxycycline while waiting for results,” the doctor said. “Our physician community as a whole are very good at early detection as our county is one of the top counties in the state for tick borne illnesses.”
The state tracks anaplasmosis, babesiosis, bourbon virus, ehrlichiosis, heartland virus, lyme disease and spotted fever rickettsiosis.
Zini says testing looks for immunological titers in blood that increase if you have an active infection, however they take quite a few days to be reported.
“A person could be having many more symptoms, so early detection and treatment can prevent complications,” the doctor said.
Zini says the public should be alert also to the alpha gal allergy that does not yet share the same notoriety as more widely known tick sicknesses.
“Alpha gal is caused by tick borne infection that makes a person allergic to mammalian tissue. The allergic symptoms can be severe and at times even life-threatening.”
The doctor said the medical community is fortunate to have a broad spectrum antibiolic like doxycycline that fights off the most common of the tickborne diseases like Rocky Mountain and Lyme tick pathogens.
Doxycycline, a broad-spectrum antibiotic, has been a major weapon in medicine since 1967.
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