Where are they hiding?
You’re out hiking in the woods or maybe you’re in your backyard playing with your kids, the last thing that you’re thinking of is whether you need to be worried about a tick getting on you. Unfortunately, you should be! How do you avoid ticks? How do you remove a tick if it attaches to your skin?
Ticks are small arachnids. Yes, they are members of the spider family! In order to survive, ticks must attach themselves to a host and feed off the host’s blood. Humans are not their primary hosts, but ticks are opportunists and will feed on whomever they can. They live in low brush and can attach to their host within 30 seconds. Ticks are more prevalent from April to September, which coincides with when more people are outdoors. There are two types: soft shell and hard shell. Soft shell will attach and be done feeding in less than an hour. Hard shell attach and feed off their host for anywhere from a few hours to several days. Most ticks do NOT carry any diseases; therefore, their bites are more annoying than anything else. However, if a tick is carrying a disease, it doesn’t get transmitted to the host until the tick is done feeding. Most of the diseases that ticks spread are carried by the hard-shell kind. So, this means if you notice a tick on you, you might not have been exposed to any potential diseases yet. If you remove it carefully, you reduce the risk of the tick transmitting anything to you.
Most tick bites are a small, painless, red spot. Occasionally, some people are allergic to the tick’s saliva and can have itching/burning and a rash near the bite site. After a tick bite, it can take 3 to 30 days for a signs of disease transmission (it depends on the disease). Usually a person who has been exposed to a tick disease will have some or all of the following: flu-like symptoms, fever, numbness, rash, confusion, weakness, pain/swelling of joints, palpitations, shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and paralysis. If a person has any of these symptoms, they should be evaluated by a doctor immediately. Be sure to tell the doctor if you have been outside in an area where ticks could be present (even if you have not found a tick on your body). The doctor will do a thorough full body examination in order see if they can locate a tick which can help to order the appropriate blood to test for various diseases that ticks carry. This depends on geographic region, so it is important to provide any information as to your location when you were outside where you might have been exposed. Sometimes, the blood work does not show up as positive for several weeks even though the person is experiencing symptoms. So, the doctor will start treatment usually based off of your symptoms and the information you provided about your location.
If you notice a tick on your body, you should remove it gently. If you have access to tweezers, flip the tick onto its back and grasp firmly with the tweezers (small curved ones work best) and apply gentle pulling until tick comes free. Don’t twist/turn while grasping with the tweezers as this can detach the body of the tick from its head/mouth (if this happens, you need to have the rest removed by a doctor—the part that is still imbedded is the piece that is most likely to transmit any diseases). If you don’t have access to tweezers, use your fingers to gently rotate the tick’s body clockwise or counterclockwise for a few minutes. This will irritate the tick enough that it will let go of your skin. You can use tape to remove it from your body. Another option if you don’t have tweezers is to take liquid soap, put it on a cotton ball and place it over the tick for 15-20 seconds. The tick will release from your skin and get caught up in the cotton ball. For any of these solutions, make sure to wear gloves (if possible) and thoroughly wash your hands to help prevent the spread of any possible diseases. Also, save the tick in a tightly sealed jar or taped to a piece of paper. This way if you do start feeling ill at some point in the next 3 to 30 days, you can take the tick with you when you go to the doctor and they will be able to identify which type it is to help determine a treatment plan.
The easiest way to prevent tick bites is to avoid areas that are known for ticks. However, if you enjoy being outside, you are at risk. So, what should you do? There are several things that you can do, including covering your skin so that nothing is exposed. This is particularly important if you like to hike…you should be wearing pants that are tucked into either your socks or boots. Wear light-colored clothing in order to be able to spot ticks easier and brush them off. Use insect repellant that specifically states it is good protection against ticks (do NOT use any products containing DEET on children). Be sure to treat your pets with flea/tick repellants as recommended by your veterinarian. Not only can animals be exposed to the diseases that ticks might carry, but they can carry ticks into your house and put you at risk. If you have been outside in areas where ticks are a concern, promptly check yourself and others for ticks once you have left that area. Wash all clothing in warm/hot water or put in the dryer on high heat for at least 10 minutes.
Summer is here and by being prepared for ticks, you can enjoy it! If you have any questions or concerns about if you were exposed to ticks, please speak with your physician. If you would like further information about ticks, please visit the Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s webpage about ticks at https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/index.html