By Dr. Jim Ferguson

Summer will soon be here and you may think it’s strange, but I have been thinking about ticks.  Perhaps it’s because I found one on my pant leg this week and, serendipitously(?), an article on these pests appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. However, as I started this essay, “it hit the fan.” I hesitate to use this crass metaphor, but cut me some slack because it describes the current state of affairs in America.

Despite all the problems that exist in the world and our country, all we hear on the news these days is the drama associated with Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.  I don’t particularly care for basketball – even UT – and I don’t remember ever watching a professional basketball game.  Therefore, I don’t see why this guy Sterling’s private racist remarks to his gold-digger girlfriend should be dominating the “news.”  The most cogent remark of this whole sordid affair was from the television commentator, Bernie Goldberg.  Goldberg asked how can America be racist when everyone is expressing their outrage at Mr. Sterling’s remarks.  Incidentally, Mr. Sterling’s apparently taped rants were only recently released by his girlfriend who is embroiled in a lawsuit with Mr. Sterling’s estranged wife.  All of this is more than I care to hear, but it speaks to human problem.

Racism is a form of bigotry.  Treating any one differently because of their race, religion or their sex is the definition of bigotry and is repugnant to me and most people.  Unfortunately, prejudice towards others because of their tribe or skin color has been around for all of recorded history.  What is even more disturbing to me is that this form of class warfare is still used by some of our leaders to label certain groups as racist or homophobic for political gain.  My grandmother grew up in West Tennessee and held antiquated views on race relations which are different than mine.  Fortunately, my children see even less “difference” than I do.  Hopefully, some day we will all see beyond the surface as did the Master.  Until then we should strive for equal treatment for everyone.  Perhaps the Mississippi Democrat Congressman Bennie Thompson should be fined and censored for calling Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas an Uncle Tom.  Perhaps the editors of GQ (Gentleman’s Quarterly) should be boycotted for the blanket statement that Republicans are racists.  And perhaps Senate Democrat Harry Reid should be pilloried for jumping on the race bandwagon and insisting that the Washington Redskins football team should change their “hurtful” name.

The First Amendment supposedly affords us freedom of speech.  This includes speech that is stupid or speech that may hurt the feelings of others.  There are of course some limits to this basic American right.  We are not free to yell “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater because this might cause panic and physical harm to others.  I have to admit that when I hear “Oh my God!” I cringe, because this common phrase violates the Ten Commandments which I believe is of an even higher order.  However, I don’t call the thought police or go on CNN and whine about how I have been offended by someone’s  “OMG!”  It is obvious to me that political correctness has run amok in the world.  We now have “hate speech” defined as speech considered racist or prejudicial to someone on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, or disability.  Recently, a British politician was arrested for quoting Winston Churchill’s remarks regarding Muslims.  Apparently someone was offended.

Okay, I feel better now.  Well, not really, but it is probably healthy to get some of this stuff off my chest before I get back to medicine.  Perhaps it’s worth the effort and the risk for a watchman to make a plea for common sense.  Actually, there is so much good in the world; it just gets overshadowed by the incessant barrage of the bad with news coverage that manipulates the uninformed in sound bites.  Speaking of good, as I write this essay, Oakley, the brightest star in the known universe, turns two years old and will be christened this weekend!

Now back to my original topic and some practical medical pointers. Ticks are loathsome creatures in my opinion.  I once believed that they served no purpose.  I’ve recently learned that ticks are food for Guinea hens – you know those goofy looking birds with a tiny head and smaller brain.  A farmer told me that if you want to eliminate ticks, establish a flock of Guinea hens on your property.  I believe I ‘d have trouble eating a Guinea hen after learning this.

Ticks begin to be a problem after freezing weather leaves, and remain a problem until the first fall frost.  In our area Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a serious infection spread by ticks.  However, ticks in our area can also transmit another microorganism called Ehrlichia which produces Rocky Mountain spotless fever.  As the name implies, there is no rash with ehrlichiosis.  I advise people to inspect their skin carefully after being out in the woods and to remove ticks carefully as soon as they’re discovered.  I advise gently grasping the tick with tweezers, and pulling backwards away from the embedded head.  Interestingly, ticks may take several hours to attach before feeding and transmitting infectious microorganisms.  Headache and fever are the presenting signs of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and only later does a rash appear.  Unfortunately, serious consequences arise if the condition is not recognized and treated before the rash appears.

Ticks can also transmit an organism called Babesia, and certain tick species transmit Lyme disease.  Fortunately, the tiny “seed ticks” associated with Lyme disease are most prevalent in New England and the mid-Atlantic states, and to a lesser extent in the upper Midwest, and in the Pacific Northwest.  Lyme disease is associated with a particular type of rash called erythema migrans.  Interestingly, a similar condition called southern tick-associated rash illness can occur from  the bite of our Lone Star tick.  This is not Lyme disease.

One final comment, pests are unfortunately everywhere.  Don’t let them get you down!