Ticks: bites, removal, symptoms, protection
Few days ago my friend’s son found a tick attached to his hip. The only outdoor place he’s been to on that day was his school yard during school breaks and recess.
There are many types of ticks living in the world. Some are harmless, some can cause infection and only two types of ticks transmit Lyme disease. Those ticks are:
1. blacklegged tick (or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis) spreads the disease in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central United States.
2. western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) spreads the disease on the Pacific Coast.
These two types of ticks that carry Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium. Bacterium is spread when tick attaches to its host and cuts trough skin and inserts its feeding tube right into host’s blood stream.
Ticks can attach themselves virtually to any part of a body but mostly found in hard to see areas such as behind earls, scalp, armpits, and groin. Generally, a tick needs to be attached for 36 to 48 hours to transmit Lyme disease.
Ticks can attach to any animal and bird including home pets. Although there is no evidence of transmission of the disease from animals and birds to humans, they can bring infected ticks to home yard and parks in your neighbourhood.
Ticks cannot fly or jump and will not go looking for their host. They sit on leaves, shrubs and grass waiting for a host to come to them. Once a host brushes the spot where tick is waiting, tick quickly climbs and finds a suitable place to attach.
Tick secretes analgesic while cutting through host’s skin thus making insertion painless and unnoticeable. Tick can stay on its host for several days slowly sucking blood and gradually expending in its size, sometimes it can expand up to 5 times to its original size. Eventually tick detaches from its host and falls off.
There is no use performing a blood test in first 30 days after removing a tick as bacterium markers will not show on the test. Also doing blood test in the first 3 months after removing tick might not provide definitive diagnostic results.
Early start of antibiotics can destroy bacteria and prevent Lyme disease. It is a preventative measure and based only on the fact that tick was attached for more than 36 hours, there is no test to support the use of antibiotics. However, by the time Lyme disease is diagnosed it is too late to start antibiotics as bacterium has done its irreversible damage. In some countries antibiotic is prescribed as soon as tick is removed, other countries to not have such practice.
It is advisable to request antibiotic after tick removal, especially if you have no idea how long a tick was attached. Generally, Doxycycline is prescribed for adults for the duration of 3 weeks; children are prescribed Amoxicillin (duration is determined by a doctor and depends on child’s age and weight).
How to remove tick
All you need is tweezers preferably with slant tip. Grab tick with tweezers as close to the surface skin as possible.
Pull backwards slowly using even, steady pressure. DO NOT jerk, twist or wave tick from side to side (you don’t want to break tick and have some parts of its body left inside the host).
After removing tick put it in a zip lock back and submit to testing. Contact your local public health unit for instructions.
You can also dispose tick after its dead and you can kill it by drowning it in rubbing alcohol. If you decided to crash it, make sure you do not come in contact with fluids inside a tick as it might contain bacteria. Apply some antiseptic to affected area (alcohol or hydrogen peroxide). Go and seek medical attention as soon as you can and discuss use of antibiotic.
DO NOT: put any oil, kerosine, creams or any other liquids on tick. I heard tales that, if you put some thick fluids on tick’s butt, it won’t be able to breath and will have to detach from its host. This is not true! Tick will not come out. It might die and then you are stuck with removing a dead tick rather than alive one.
DO NOT: burn tick of with lighters and cigarets. You will burn a victim but will not make tick to detach.
Watch for signs and symptoms of Lyme disease
- The most definitive sign is erythema migrans (EM) or bullseye because it literally looks like a huge eye. 60 to 80 % people develop EM and it usually occurs within 30 days after the bite. Rash starts as small salmon coloured circle and resembles ordinary skin rash or infection. Then lesion expands and becomes clear in the centre forming a red ring which can expand up to 20 cm in diameter.
2. Other symptoms include flu or cold like symptoms: muscle aches, fever, chills. You can also have increased heart beat, sweating and overall unwell feeling. Person can also experience neurological symptoms: headache, muscle twitching, tingling and numbness in limbs, tingling in ears. Symptoms usually go away and many people to do not associate them with a tick bite.
How to protect yourself from ticks
- When in the woods, stay in the middle of the trail and avoid bushy areas or areas with tall grass
- Use commercial repellants with at least 20% DEET. Apply it all over clothing, footwear, socks and hats. If you camping, stray your tent as well. If you are hiking, spray your backpack too. Parents should assist children with applying repellants.
- Wear protective clothing. It is advisable to wear light coloured clothing as you can easily spot ticks. Wear long sleeve clothing, long pants, tuck your pants into your socks (yes, it does not look pretty but it will save you from ticks :).
- ALWAYS perform tick checks on yourself, your children and your pets. I cannot count how many times I removed a tick from another person after walking through tall grass or shrubs (thus preventing any tick attachment to the host).
- Eat garlic! Lots of it. I know it sounds strange but ticks hate garlic smell and most likely will not pick you as a source of food.
Ticks are everywhere and based on latest statistics their population is growing. It does not mean that you should avoid outdoors and parks. Well, certainly not me, I love camping, hiking, long forest walks and biking. However, be outdoors smart and take preventative measures to protect yourself and your loved once from outdoor hazards.