Tis the Season for Ticks!

You may have heard this year’s tick season is in full swing and some are saying it might be the worst in years.  Here’s some important information and how to best protect you and your family from the dangers of tick-borne disease, namely Lyme disease.

Lyme Disease
Lyme disease got its name after an outbreak of arthritis near Lyme, Connecticut in 1975. Since then Lyme disease has skyrocketed in parts of the country.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say there are three hot spots for Lyme disease in the United States:

  • Northeast and mid-Atlantic states from Massachusetts to Maryland, spreading north and south along the coast and inland
  • North-central states especially Wisconsin and Minnesota, spreading in all directions
  • West coast particularly northern California, spreading north

The disease however is not isolated to these areas.

Blame a very small wood tick for a very big disease. Lyme disease is caused by two types of bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi and another closely related bacterium, Borrelia mayonii. They are carried by various black-legged ticks. The main culprit in the Northeast and North-central states is the deer tick, which normally feeds on the white-footed mouse and the white tail deer. The mice and deer act as a reservoir for the bacteria, which the ticks pick up and pass on to their next host. The American Lyme Disease Foundation says studies show that it takes a tick 36 to 48 hours to pass the bacteria on to humans.

“In its early stages, Lyme disease is diagnosed by symptoms and evidence of a tick bite,” says Dr. Eric Prenger, family medicine physician with Wilson Health Medical Group. According to the American Lyme Disease Foundation, blood tests aren't always reliable for Lyme disease especially early in the disease's progress. “If you suspect you have been bitten by a tick, it is imperative that you share that with your doctor so he or she can make an informed diagnosis.”

If caught in its earliest stages Lyme disease is almost always successfully treated, so it's important that symptoms not be ignored. “The first sign, of course, is a tick that you find that has bitten you. But these ticks are tiny and often go unnoticed. They tend to hide in moist, hairy portions of the body such as armpits, the groin and the scalp,” says Dr. Prenger.

“The first sign most people see is an expanding rash called erythema migrans or EM. B. burgdorferi's is a bull's eye rash, it tends to be round and expand from a central spot sometimes with rings,” explains Prenger. The rash shows up in over 80 percent of the cases according to the Lyme Disease Foundation. It will show 3 to 30 days after the bite by an infected tick. Dr. Prenger says the rash caused by B. mayonii tends to be more diffused.

Here are some of the other early symptoms of Lyme disease and can pose as flu like symptoms such as:

  • fatigue
  • chills and fever
  • headache
  • muscle and joint pain
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • nausea and vomiting

“These signs don't necessarily mean you have Lyme disease, but they are an important diagnostic tool for your doctor,” says Prenger. “If treated early with antibiotics, Lyme disease can be successfully treated so do not delay seeing your physician.”

Prevention and Control
The best thing of course is never to get the disease. You do that by avoiding ticks, where they live, and by being vigilant.

The first thing to do is don't give ticks an inviting place around your home. That means clearing brush, low hanging branches and tall grass from near your house, yard and garden. When you are outdoors, CDC says there are precautions to take:

  • Wear shoes, socks and light colored clothing to spot ticks easily
  • Tuck long pants into socks and your shirt into your pants
  • Scan your clothing and exposed skin, especially if you are wearing shorts, frequently looking for ticks
  • Careful use of an insect repellent is often recommended; ask your doctor about this, especially as far as children are concerned
  • Wear a hat and a long sleeve shirt if possible
  • Avoid sitting on the ground or stone walls
  • Stay in the center of hiking trails avoiding tall grass and open fields
  • Do a full body check at the end of the day for ticks, paying particular attention to scalp and other hairy portions of the body
  • Wash and dry the clothes you had on at high temperatures to kill any hidden ticks. Also, remember that a tick will climb up looking for exposed skin. That's why you need to keep them off your clothes.

Finding a Tick
Finding a tick isn't a reason to panic. “It typically takes 36 to 48 hours for the bacteria to be passed on; therefore if you are checking yourself and your family carefully everyday, you are going a long way to protecting them from Lyme disease,” says Dr. Prenger. “If you do find a tick, use a pair of tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull back slowly and steadily. Avoid grabbing and crushing the tick by its body. Place the tick in a vial or jar of alcohol to kill it. Then, watch for other signs.” (see symptoms above).

Dr. Prenger says, “The risk of developing Lyme disease from a tick bite is small, since not all ticks are carriers.  Most physicians prefer not to treat patients bitten by ticks with antibiotics unless they develop symptoms of Lyme disease.” On the other hand, NIH says one-fourth of the people who become infected with Lyme disease do not develop the characteristic bull's eye rash, and many may not even recall having been bitten recently by a tick. “So if you have concerns about Lyme disease, or if you do have suspicious symptoms, see your doctor immediately,” says Dr. Prenger

If you or someone you know has a tick on them, follow these steps:

1. Remove the tick from your skin

If the tick is crawling on you but hasn’t bitten you, just carefully pick it up with tweezers or gloved hands.

If the tick has bitten you and is attached to your skin, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible,

2. Clean the bite location

Clean the area of the bite with soap and water, an iodine scrub or rubbing alcohol.

3. Dispose of or contain the tick

To get rid of a tick, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends flushing it down the toilet or wrapping it tightly in tape to throw away with the garbage.

To hang onto the tick for identification later, submerge the tick in alcohol and place it in a sealed bag or other container.

4. Identify the tick

Certain types of ticks are associated with different types of infectious diseases.

Use the online tick identification tools, such as Ohio State’s tick resource page or the University of Rhode Island’s TickEncounter Resource Center.

If you’re unable to identify the tick yourself, contact your local Health Department.

5. Observe the site of the tick bite

Watch the site of the bite and go to a doctor if you notice a localized rash, redness or swelling of the area

6. See a doctor – if you need one

If you’re experiencing fever or chills, aches and pains, or a rash near the bite location, it’s time to see a doctor.