Not often at the top of the list for workplace safety measures for outdoor workers, is taking precautions against ticks.
These small, spider-like bugs feed on the blood of animals, attaching themselves to rodents, deer, livestock, birds, and even reptiles and amphibians. Of the 47 tick species in California, eight also feed off of unsuspecting humans and they can spread diseases that can be fatal if left untreated.
Certain categories of outdoor workers are obviously the most susceptible laborers to tick bites, including those in agriculture, construction, landscaping, forestry, brush clearing, surveying, utility line work, and park or wildlife management. If you have employees in any of these sectors, you should ensure they are aware of the dangers from tick bites and what they can do about it.
Ticks are found in natural areas that have grasses, shrubs, or leaf litter under trees. Some may be found in rodent-infested cabins. Ticks do not fly or jump. Instead, they wait in the vegetation to attach themselves to potential hosts that may pass by. They can also crawl onto victims.
While most tick bites are harmless, some ticks can spread serious illnesses, including:
- Lyme disease. This is the most common tick-borne disease in California, and there are about 100 reported cases of Lyme disease every year in the state. Early symptoms of Lyme disease include flu-like symptoms and, in most cases, a slowly expanding rash at the site of the bite. Untreated, the infection may spread to other parts of the body within a few days to weeks and produce neurologic, arthritic and cardiac affects.
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever. This potentially fatal disease needs to be treated in the first few days of symptoms appearing. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, and muscle pain. A rash may also develop, but is often absent in the first few days.
- Tick-borne relapsing fever. This is characterized by recurring episodes of fever accompanied by other non-specific symptoms, including headaches, muscle pain, joint pain, chills, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
- Tularemia, babesiosis, anaplasmosis and erlichiosis. All of these illnesses have similar symptoms of headaches, muscle aches, fever and lack of energy, among others.
Workers in tick-infested areas should:
- Wear appropriate, light-colored protective clothing, including hat, long-sleeved shirt and long pants. The shirt should be tucked into pants, and pants into boots or socks.
- Don insect repellents containing DEET to skin not covered with clothing. Clothing can be treated with the repellent permethrin.
- Avoid bushy areas and long grass if possible.
- Immediately after outdoor work do a total body inspection for ticks. Pay close attention to armpits, in and around ears, behind knees, areas with body hair, navel and groin. They should do this daily for up to three days after working in a tick-infested area.
- Shower soon after being outdoors.
- Check any equipment or gear that you may have brought with you from outside for ticks.
- Put clothes in the dryer for one hour on high heat to kill any ticks.
- Wear protective gloves when handling dead animals.
- Report any finding of ticks to you so that other workers can be made aware of the hazard and recheck themselves for ticks.
If a tick bite occurs
If one of your workers finds a tick on their body, they should remove it as soon as possible. The risk of illness is greatly reduced if the tick is removed from the body within 24-36 hours after it fastened to its new host.
Ticks found on the body should be removed promptly. Use tweezers to grab the tick close to the skin. Pull the tick firmly, straight out, away from the skin (do not jerk or twist the tick while pulling).
Wash your hands and the bite site with soap and water after the tick is removed, and apply antiseptic to the bite site. Do not use ineffective methods for removing ticks, such as coating the tick’s body with a substance or lighting the tick with a match.
Workers developing a rash or flu-like symptoms one to 30 days after a bite, or working in a tick-infested area, should consult with a physician.