Known as nature’s septic tanks, ticks are blood-sucking insects that carry germs and can pass on infection. Ticks live in areas covered by brush and tall grasses and are found in woods and mountains. They wait patiently at the end of a blade of grass with their front legs in the air, waiting to grab onto you when you walk by. While most tick bites do not cause illness, any tick can be a carrier of Lyme Disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
After they successfully hitch a ride, they crawl around looking for the ideal place to attach. The most common places for ticks to attach are the head, neck, armpits, ankles, or groin (between your legs). They may crawl on the skin for up to one hour before actually biting you. A tick uses its mouth to dig into your skin and suck your blood.
Lyme Disease has been reported in all 50 states as well as Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America. It is very important to know how to properly remove a tick and when to seek medical treatment for a tick bite.
Signs and Symptoms of a Tick Bite
Normal symptoms of a tick bite include; pain and swelling as well as redness, blisters or bumps and itching at the bite site. These symptoms usually go away within a week.
Other, more serious symptoms include headaches, fever, or chills, a red rash, muscle weakness, tiredness or having trouble walking as well as loss of appetite. Call your care provider if you have one or more signs of illness within one month of getting a tick bite.
How Do I Remove a Tick?
Ticks must be removed as soon as possible to help prevent diseases such as Lyme Disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. You are less likely to get sick from a tick bite if you remove it within 24 hours. Here is the recommended method for removing a tick:
1.) Soak a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol or use a disposable alcohol wipe. Gently clean the skin around the tick.
2.) Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull it straight up and out with tweezers or with fingertips protected by a tissue, cloth or rubber gloves. Do not touch the tick with your bare hands.
3.) Pull gently until the tick lets go. Do not twist or jerk the tick suddenly because this may break off the tick's head or mouth parts. Do not leave any parts of the tick in the skin.
4.) Do not crush or squeeze the tick since its body may be infected with germs. If you are concerned that the tick may be infected, you can put it into a plastic zip-lock bag so that it can be tested in a lab. Make sure the bag is securely sealed.
5.) Do not put a hot match, petroleum jelly or fingernail polish on the tick. This does not cause a tick to come off more easily. Doing this may cause the tick to vomit (throw up) germs into your skin.
6.) After the tick is removed, clean the area of the bite with rubbing alcohol. Then, wash your hands with soap and water.
How Do I Treat a Tick Bite?
Apply ice to the bite mark. This may help to decrease pain, itching and swelling from the bite. Apply ice for 20 minutes out of every hour. Wrap ice-pack in a towel or t-shirt - do not put ice directly on the skin.
Try not to scratch the bite.
Medicines: Caregivers may suggest one of more of the following medicines:
- Antihistamine: An antihistamine may help decrease the itching from your bite.
- Skin protectant: Protectants such as calamine or zinc oxide may help soothe itchy, red skin.
- Topical steroid: A topical steroid may help decrease redness and itching.
Don’t let fear of ticks keep you from enjoying the great outdoors! As always, the best treatment is prevention. Prevent tick bites by avoiding grassy areas, particularly from May to July. If you do venture into these areas, make sure to dress appropriately. Wear light-colored clothing so you can see and quickly remove ticks before they have a chance to become attached to your skin. Use gaitors or tuck your pant-legs into your socks or boots. Use an insect repellant that contains DEET (but avoid direct contact with the skin!) It is best to apply insect repellant to your clothing, paying particular attention to places like cuffs and zippers, where a tick might find its way in. When you return home, make sure to change clothes immediately and wash your skin and hair to remove any ticks that may be on the surface. It is best to do a daily “tick check” of the body and hair to ensure none have become attached.
Following these practices of prevention and safe tick removal cannot guarantee you will never be exposed to tick-borne diseases, but they will certainly minimize your risk!