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Tick-borne illnesses on the rise in Oklahoma

With the warmer weather looking like it’s going to stick around this time, there’s something we of which we all need to be aware. That’s the creepy crawlies most of us can’t see that could get you sicker than you ever want to be. (KTUL)

With the warmer weather looking like it’s going to stick around this time, there’s something we all need to be aware. That’s the creepy crawlies most of us can’t see that could get you sicker than you would ever want to be.

The Oklahoma State Health Department issued a tick warning Wednesday, telling people to be careful around areas with tall grass and low-hanging tree branches.

Illness is hiding in branches, tall grass and you never know when it will strike.

“I got a rash on my hands,” says Jim Kirby. “At first, I thought it was, like, poison ivy.”

Kirby teaches band and orchestra at Carver Middle School. His hands are important. But the poison ivy cream didn’t do any good.

“I work on a ranch and [poison ivy is] not uncommon for me,” he said. “But it didn’t respond to poison ivy. Then it developed into flu-like symptoms.”

That’s when doctors went to the next step.

“They ruled out Rocky Mountain [Spotted Fever] and Lymes, which was good,” he says. “It came back as some sort of rare tick disease.”

“Just being outside is a pretty good risk factor for getting a tick,” says Nicole Schlaefli, an epidemiologist with the Tulsa County Health Department. “We have three main tick-borne diseases here in Oklahoma. Each one kind of presents differently, but they’re all treated the same way.”

“I was hoping it would be rare enough that they could name it after me,” Kirby says with a smirk. “And become the Kirby Tick Disease.”

Kirby missed three days of school. His flu-like symptoms getting worse before they got better.

“I didn’t want any food whatsoever,” he remembers. “I had to just live on soup, which I hate.”

“Ticks are usually more common in the warmer months,” Schaefli says. “Typically, it’s been about May through August or September.”

Kirby is back on his feet in his workshop. But while he’s on his ranch, the work waits until he’s ready for Mother Nature.

“Not anymore, no,” he says. “That’s because of my wife, she won’t let me do it.”

A good way to keep ticks away is to use a bug spray. The Tulsa County Health Department suggests something with at least 20 percent DEET.

Oklahoma has had more than 2,000 reported tick-borne diseases in the last five years. More than 200 people have wound up in the hospital.

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