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It's tick season in the South. Here's how to stay safe.
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It's tick season in the South. Here's how to stay safe.

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A lone star tick (copy)

A lone star tick.

Ticks always pose a risk in the South, but the critters become more active this time of year.

Preventing exposure to ticks, which feed on blood, is important because some species can cause diseases such as ehrlichiosis, lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and southern tick-associated rash illness.

Preventing exposure to ticks, which feed on blood, is important because some species can cause diseases.

"Most tick-borne illnesses are characterized by a rash, fever and flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache muscle aches and joint pain," North Carolina health officials said. "Prompt medical treatment, often with antibiotics, helps alleviate symptoms and prevent the development of more serious illness and long-term aftereffects."

Of the ticks that bite humans, four species are found throughout the Southeast, including in North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Kentucky: American dog tick, brown dog tick, lonestar tick and black-legged tick/deer tick.

Here are some tips from experts on how to stay safe, especially as ticks are most active from April to September.

• Recognize how you may encounter them.

"Ticks live in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas, or even on animals," the CDC said on its website. "Spending time outside walking your dog, camping, gardening, or hunting could bring you in close contact with ticks."

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• If you plan to go outside, cover your clothes with products that have 0.5% permethrin, which kills ticks. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also has an online search tool to help determine the best repellents.

• "When camping, try to select an area that is not heavily infested with ticks," the N.C. State University Extension said on its website. "You can check for ticks by dragging a piece of white flannel cloth or clothing over the grass and shrubs and then examining it for ticks."

• While outdoors, wear layers and tuck your pants into your socks so ticks don't go up your legs. Other suggestions include walking in the middle of trails and making sure your dogs have tick treatments.

What if you were exposed? Here are some things to keep in mind, according to experts.

• If you think you may have encountered ticks, take a shower as soon as you get home.

• Check for ticks on your body, clothes and outdoor gear.

• If you see a tick on your body, use tweezers to take it off right away. Then, clean your hands and the exposed area with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.

"Even after being bitten, it takes several hours for the tick to transmit the pathogen," the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said on its website. "Prompt removal can greatly reduce your chances of becoming ill."

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Maggie Silver, a health communication specialist for the CDC, said it's unclear how widespread the virus is.

“It has likely been present for a long time, but we are just now becoming aware of it," Silver said in an email. “Now that we’ve discovered the virus, we are trying to determine how much of a public health burden it is.”

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