As we enjoy the summer weather, many of our patients begin to worry about ticks and Lyme disease. There continues to be a lot of research to better understand Lyme disease, but there is also a lot of misinformation on the internet and social media. Here’s what you should know about ticks, Lyme disease and how our doctors can help.
Lyme Disease: How is it caused?
Lyme disease is caused by a bacterial infection spread to humans by infected black legged deer ticks. Deer ticks typically live harmlessly on small mammals, such as field mice and deer. Some people may be surprised to know that ticks cannot jump or fly! They rest on the tips of grasses and shrubs waiting for a host to brush by, and then they quickly climb aboard.
Lyme transmission occurs in the spring, summer and early fall (approximately April through September). Ticks are typically found in wooded or grassy areas, with Lyme disease being most prevalent in the Northeast and upper Midwest.
How do I avoid getting a tick bite?
While you should try to prevent tick bites year-round, you need to be extra careful in warmer months (April-September) when ticks are most active. Ticks are out and about whenever the temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
To avoid being bitten, follow these simple guidelines:
- Avoid wooded and brushy areas with tall grass and leaf litter.
- Wear light long sleeves and/or pants when hiking or walking in wooded areas. Keep pants tucked into socks.
- Clothing can be soaked with permethrin. However, do not spray permethrin, often sold under the brand name Nix, directly on your skin. For the skin, you can apply insect repellent containing 10-30% DEET with good repellent quality and demonstrated safety, but don’t use this on an infant less than 6 months of age.
- Do daily “tick checks.” Before or after bathing is a good time to check. Older children or adults should use a hand-held or full-length mirror to check all of their body parts. Make sure to check under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and on the hairline and scalp.
- Prevent ticks on animals with flea/tick collars or other treatments.
- Discourage deer by removing plants that attract them and/or by building barriers or fencing to keep them out. Deer are the main food source of adult ticks.
What do I do if I find a tick?
Ticks tend to hide in “nooks and crannies,” so make sure to check your and your child’s armpits, groin, folds of the ears and scalp for these little guys. Even running your hands/fingers through you or your child’s hair can be a good way to check the scalp as well as using a hard comb.
To remove a tick:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers, grabbing as close to the skin as possible. (Do NOT use folklore remedies like petroleum jelly, heat or nail polish to remove a tick).
- Pull upwards (away from the body) with steady, even pressure until the tick releases. If parts of the tick are not removed in their entirety, you may try to remove these parts with clean tweezers. If you cannot remove them easily, leave them alone and allow the skin to heal. The body will expel any remaining parts on its own – trying to “force it” can just increase the risk of secondary skin infection or irritation.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your skin with rubbing alcohol or warm soap and water.
What do I do after removing the tick?
Talk to a doctor. If you believe the tick was engorged and may have been attached to you for >36 hours, request a visit with a First Stop Health doctor as soon as possible. You may be prescribed a preventive dose of antibiotics, which will need to be taken within 72 hours of removing the tick. Sometimes, a single dose of antibiotic is all that’s needed!
Your First Stop Health doctor will address any specific questions or concerns you may have and recommend next steps, which may include getting a blood test to check for Lyme or another tick-related disease.
Check with your local officials to see if services are available to test ticks for Lyme disease and other diseases. If so, you may want to keep the tick you removed and submit it for testing.
Watch for the following symptoms, which may show up in a few days or a few weeks after a tick bite. Talk to a doctor if you experience:
- Rash (this may spread outward in a ring from a hard, white lump, or it may move up your arms and legs to your chest)
- Body aches, joint swelling and pain
- Severe headache
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