Roughly 300,000 people may get Lyme disease annually in the U.S., but only about 30,000 even get reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year. The bug responsible? The black-legged (formerly deer) tick. These small, blood-sucking bugs that live outdoors in grass, leaf piles, trees, and shrubs like to hitch a ride on you, your dog, or your cat. Unlike other bugs, ticks like to stick around by remaining attached to your body after they bite. Most tick bites are harmless. But there are almost 60 different tick species known to bite and transmit illnesses to people. Diseases (like Lyme) or bacterial infections (like Rocky Mountain spotted fever and others) often cause symptoms within the first few days or weeks.
While it’s best to try and avoid the outdoor areas where ticks dwell, it’s also unrealistic to think that you’ll never encounter one. So unless you want to barricade yourself in the house for the season and miss out on camping, hiking, walking, picnicking, or playing sports outside, you’ll need to use the same protective measures as you would for any biting bug. As for insect repellent: For adults: Use one that has more than 30 percent of DEET. Ask your doctor what repellents they recommend for kids. (Don’t let kids apply any repellent themselves! Repellents also shouldn’t be used on children under two months old.) Wearing a hat, long sleeves, long pants, and socks (tucked in) will help you to avoid these hangers-on as much as possible.
Potential symptoms of tick-borne diseases, like Lyme disease, include an expanding, quarter-size or larger red spot, at or near the bite itself; fever or chills; headache; muscle or joint pain; nausea; neck stiffness; rash; swollen lymph nodes; and weakness or achiness. Some bites from different types of ticks can be very serious. For example, besides a widely-spreading rash, Rocky Mountain spotted fever (from the Rocky Mountain wood tick) can also include brain, heart, or lung inflammation, plus kidney failure. Severe infections from this bite can sometimes lead to amputation. The bottom line: Seek medical attention ASAP if you experience any tick-related symptoms.
Think prevention first, then body checks and safe removal when it comes to these little buggers!
- Always have someone check your body and hair afterwards for ticks.
- Check pets when they come in from outdoors, too.
- If you do find one, use fine tweezers to grasp it as close to the skin as possible. Pull slowly and steadily upward, without twisting. Allow it to let go without leaving any part behind.
- Never crush a tick between your fingers!
- Don’t use petroleum jelly, nail polish, or a hot match to remove the bug.
- Hold the tick between two layers of clear tape and discard. (If you can seal the dead tick in a closed container and put it in the freezer, that’s even better, so you can show it to your doctor.)
- Wash your hands and the bite well with soap and warm water. You can also use rubbing alcohol or an iodine scrub. Rinse thoroughly.
By Lisa Miceli Feliciano