Tickborne diseases are a threat to the health of people all across the United States. While there are many different bacteria that ticks can carry, the most common bacterium is Borrelia burgdorferi, which is responsible for Lyme disease. Symptoms of Lyme disease typically include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic “bulls-eye” rash known as erythema migrans. While not all people who are infected with Lyme disease will exhibit these symptoms, it is important to treat the infection as soon as possible. If left untreated, the infection can spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system with the potential of causing chronic symptoms.
Lyme disease is transmitted by the blacklegged (deer) tick. These ticks are typically found in wooded or brushy areas, but can be found virtually anywhere outdoors. Ticks don’t fly or jump, but rather “quest” which involves them hanging on to grass or other surfaces with their back legs and their front legs outstretched. Once the host passes by, they latch on with their front legs to attach.
Most of the time, humans are infected with Lyme disease through the bites of immature ticks, called nymphs. These young ticks are about the size of a poppy seed and therefore can be very difficult to see. One of the primary ways to safeguard yourself against potential tick bites is through prevention methods. Prevention may include wearing light colored clothing, using insect repellents, treating clothing or outdoor gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin, and avoiding wooded, brushy, or tall grass areas. Furthermore, once coming in from outside, you can place clothes that are dry (damp would require longer) in the dryer for 10-15 minutes to kill any ticks. It is also a good idea to shower within 2 hours of coming indoors in an attempt to wash away ticks before they can bite.
Studies show that in order for a tick to transmit Lyme disease it typically needs to be attached for a minimum of 36 hours.
Tick bites often occur in the following locations: under arms, in/around ears and hair, between the legs and behind the knees, and in the belly button or around the waist. Not only can a tick bite transmit Lyme disease, but if the host, human or animal, is already infected, the tick itself can become infected and then transmit the disease for the remainder of its lifetime. Once a tick completes feeding through the bite, it detaches from the host.
If you do find a tick, it is best to remove it as soon as you can. When removing a tick, you should use fine-tipped tweezers and attempt to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull upward with steady pressure to remove the entire tick and prevent the body from separating from the mouth parts. If the tick does end up separating, try to remove the remaining parts with tweezers. After removing, clean the tweezers, hands, and tick bite site with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. If the tick is alive when it is removed, do not crush it with your fingers. It is best to put it in a sealed bag/container if you intend to have it tested or destroy it by wrapping tightly in tape or flushing down the toilet.
If you are bitten by a tick it may be a good idea to write down the day you noticed the bite. This will be helpful because if you do experience a rash or fever within several weeks after the bite, you will want to notify your physician. Having data on when and where the tick bite occurred may be helpful for your physician to determine if they believe your symptoms are Lyme disease related. After evaluation, if your physician feels the tick bite had a high risk of transmitting Lyme, antibiotic treatment may be recommended. If the tick is found embedded in your skin or you know of a recent bite, a prophylactic dose of doxycycline may be prescribed. If you experience symptoms within weeks of a tick bite typically antibiotics such as doxycycline, cephalosporins, or amoxicillin may be used for anywhere from 10-21 days.
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