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How to Protect Your Unit from Ticks: Hear from our Experts

Image of How to Protect Your Unit from Ticks: Hear from our Experts. A highly magnified ventral shot of a female Ixodes scapularis tick, otherwise known as the deer tick, a primary vector for Lyme disease. The U.S. Army Defense Center for Public Health Center-Aberdeen offers free identification and analysis of ticks that have been removed from human patients or Department of Defense beneficiaries through its MilTICK testing program. Two military entomologists discuss how to protect your unit in the field during Bug Week, June 10-17. (U.S. Army Public Health Center photo by Graham Snodgrass)

Preventing tick bites is essential to avoid diseases that can impact military readiness.

Two military entomologists, U.S. Air Force Maj. David Sanders and U.S. Army Capt. David Denlinger, share their advice for commanders on protecting units from tick-borne diseases during Bug Week (June 10-17).

Protect Your Unit

Unit training should educate on “what ticks look like, where ticks live, how they can protect themselves from tick bites, known as the Department of Defense Arthropod Repellent System, and the symptoms of tick-borne diseases,” said Denlinger, who supports the Defense Health Agency.

Sanders said unit leaders should take advantage of the assets at their disposal.

“Commanders should consult their command entomologists or base preventive medicine (U.S. Army and U.S. Navy) or public health (U.S Air Force) teams for knowledge of vectors and vector-borne pathogen transmission cycles in their immediate area,” said Sanders, chief of the research division at the Armed Forces Pest Management Board.

“These offices can provide commanders with exposure prevention knowledge, not just for the service member, but for the dependent population as well,” Sanders noted.

Steps for Successful Field Operations in High-Tick Areas

Begin with understanding how to identify ticks and which tick-borne diseases are prevalent in the area where you will be deployed or training, Denlinger said.

Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are the most prevalent tick-borne diseases, but Denlinger said “everyone should be aware of lesser-known diseases,” such as:

Overseas, Denlinger said, in addition to Lyme disease, “the most important public health threats from ticks are”:

Secondly, “reconnoiter the area where training will occur,” Denlinger said. This will help to identify habitat where ticks are common, such as brush, woody areas, high grass, and animal burrows, and “as much as possible, try to avoid training in those locations.”

“If you can, consult with public health experts, entomologists, and game wardens on the potential for modifying tick habitat,” he advised. “Ask those communities to survey for ticks in the training area and request tick surveillance training for your unit’s medical or public health individuals.”

Ticks More Prevalent Now. Why?

Climate change is one reason ticks are more active, Sanders said.

“Tick species are ranging farther north as persistent snow coverage decreases due to global climate change,” he explained.

Additionally, “invasive host species and increases in native host species populations are also fueling range expansion,” Sanders added.

For example, feral swine have increased the range of the American dog tick in Texas specifically, and the return of the whitetail deer population across the Midwest has facilitated the spread of the black-legged deer tick, and thus a resurgence in Lyme disease, Sanders explained.

“Consult with your unit’s or service’s entomology communities to learn about local disease threats,” Denlinger said, adding: “No matter where you’re stationed or traveling to, check with your military public health assets, county or state public health departments, or federal or international public health enterprises for pertinent tick-borne disease information for that area.”

Resources

The AFPMB website has the most up-to-date information on tick- and other pest-borne risks, as does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Last Updated: September 06, 2023
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