I will cover some of the basics of tick bites in this post. I will discuss how to prevent tick bites, what to do if you have one, what to watch for after your bite, and just briefly touch on the more common tick-borne illnesses in our region.
The most important thing you can do to prevent tick bites and, therefore, the illnesses they can cause is to take some simple precautions when spending time in wooded or grassy areas. Here are some helpful precautions:
- Choose the appropriate clothing. Wear shoes, long pants tucked into socks and long-sleeved shirts when walking in these areas. The less skin you expose, the less area a tick has to bite. Wearing light-colored clothing helps you and others notice ticks on your clothing before they can attach themselves to your skin. Avoid wearing open-toed shoes or sandals.
- Use insect repellents. Apply an insect repellent with a 10 to 30 percent concentration of DEET to your skin and clothing. Choose the concentration based on the hours of protection you need. A 10 percent concentration protects you for about 2 hours. Do not use DEET on the hands of young children or on infants younger than 2 months of age.
- Stay on clear trails whenever possible. Ticks prefer grassy areas to the well-beaten paths.
- Inspect. Check your clothes and your body for ticks. Also make sure to check your children and your pets. It usually requires the tick to take a blood meal to transmit infection. It can take an attached tick more than 48 hours to accomplish this. Therefore, the risk of infection is low if the tick is removed within 48 hours.
- Do your best to tick-proof your yard. Clear the brush and leaves. Keep woodpiles in sunny areas.
If a tick bites you, here are some suggestions:
Don’t panic. Again, it typically takes 48 hours or more for a tick bite to transmit infection.
Use tweezers to remove the tick if possible. I usually saturate a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol and then saturate the tick. Sometimes they will release without the need to pull them. But most of the time, it just makes it easier to pull them off because the alcohol is noxious to them. It is preferable to use a pair of flat-tipped tweezers when pulling the tick off. Use the tweezers to grasp the tick near its head or mouth and pull up and out of your skin slowly and steadily without jerking or twisting the tick. If you pull too quickly or grab the tick by its body, it will likely tear leaving the head and mouth parts. Do not use petroleum jelly or hot matches to remove ticks. They are not effective in removing them and can make matters worse by stimulating the tick to release more of its bodily fluids into you causing further infection.
Kill the tick. Once you have removed the tick place it in an alcohol solution. Do not crush the tick in your hands or with your fingernails because the fluids it releases may contain bacteria.
Clean the site of the bite. Use soap and water to wash around the bite and to wash your hands thoroughly. Then apply antiseptic to the bite.
Monitor the bite site. In the following days and weeks, watch the bite site for a rash. Also, pay close attention to any signs and symptoms that develop such as fever, rash, headaches, neck stiffness, muscle aches, flu-like symptoms, light sensitivity or joint pain/inflammation. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, come see us. However, if you have a severe headache, difficulty breathing, paralysis, chest pain, or heart palpitations call 911 or go to the emergency room. Early treatment of tick-borne illnesses is important.
I want to briefly discuss some of the more common and more serious tick-borne illnesses that we sometimes see in this area. They are as follows:
Lyme disease. Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in North America and Europe. Deer ticks can harbor the bacteria and spread it when feeding. If you’re treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of the disease, you’re likely to recover completely. In the later stages, response to treatment may be slower, but the majority of people with Lyme disease recover completely with appropriate treatment. The skin, joints and nervous system are affected most often. A rash forming a gull’s-eye pattern, called erythema migrans, is one of the hallmarks of the disease and occurs a few days to a month before you have other symptoms. Flu-like symptoms, migratory joint pain and neurologic problems such as facial palsy and peripheral neuropathy are common symptoms that occur with this infection. Less common symptoms are irregular heart beat, eye inflammation, hepatitis, impaired memory and severe fatigue.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF). Although it was first identified in the Rocky Mountains, RMSF is most commonly found in the southeastern part of the United States. RMSF affects the cells in the lining of your blood vessels, making the vessels leak. This can eventually cause serious damage to internal organs, particularly your kidneys. Many people become ill within the first week after infection, but may take up to 14 days for signs and symptoms to appear. Signs and symptoms can mimic those of other illnesses, therefore, history of a tick bite is important information. Early signs and symptoms of RMSF include severe headache and high fever. A few days later, a rash usually appears on the wrists and ankles and can spread in both directions. RMSF responds well to prompt treatment with appropriate antibiotics. If left untreated, however, the disease can cause serious complications and even death.
Ehrlichiosis. Ehrlichiosis is transmitted primarily by the Lone Star tick. Signs and symptoms may appear within 5 to 14 days of the bite. The signs and symptoms of ehrlichiosis are typically flu-like symptoms. Ehrlichiosis can have serious effects on an otherwise healthy adult or child if you do not seek prompt treatment.
Tularemia. Tularemia is a rare infectious disease that can attack the skin, eyes, and lungs. Other common names for the illness include rabbit fever or deerfly fever. It can be spread through several routes, including insect bites and direct exposure to an infected animal. It is not known to spread from person to person. It is potentially fatal if not treated. It usually can be treated effectively with antibiotics if diagnosed early. Most exposed people who become sick generally do so within 2 to 10 days, but incubation can take as little as a few hours or as long as three weeks. The most common form of the disease has signs and symptoms which include a skin ulcer that forms at the site of the bite, swollen and painful lymph nodes, fever, chills, headache and exhaustion.
If you have been bitten by a tick but have had it on you less than 48 hours and have had no symptoms, there is no reason to seek medical treatment. If you have been bitten by a tick and have had it on you for more than 48hours with flu-like symptoms, rash or any of the above signs and symptoms, you should come to our clinic for treatment. I hope this post is helpful.