Mild winter could lead to up-tick in bites

The next time you take a walk through the woods, keep in mind that conditions are right this summer for some tiny pests that could cause you big health problems.

"We had a real mild winter, which was relatively wet and so having those conditions meant that the insects were able to get started earlier and the ticks, too," said Clemson University Extension Agent Ben Powell.

Powell said there's no sign the tick population will be worse than normal this summer, but the early start to the season means they could be more active.

The most common tick in the Southeast is the Lone Star or deer tick, which can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

"It can give you flu-like symptoms, but one of the hallmarks is what we call a petechial rash, where you get red spots and those red spots can be on your hands, on your palms and on your feet, scattered throughout your body," said Loris Hospital emergency room physician Dr. James Wright.

Dr. Wright said Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be deadly if left untreated, but is easily curable if detected early.

The best-known illness transmitted by ticks is Lyme disease, but Dr. Wright said that's most common in the Northeast and Midwest, and rare in South Carolina.

If you're going to be walking through bushes or tall grass, Dr. Wright suggests you wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants tucked into your socks, and use an insect repellant that contains the chemical DEET.

Check yourself thoroughly after you've been in the woods and if you see that a tick has bitten you, take care in removing it.

"The best thing to do is to take a forceps or a tweezers and to get down close to the skin and gently put traction on the tick until it lets go and pops out of the skin," Dr. Wright said.

Don't burn the tick with a match or cover it with vaseline. Dr. Wright said that might just cause the tick to inject toxins into your skin.

He said you don't have to avoid the woods this summer. Just be aware of the tiny critters that may be lurking in the next bush.