According to the Centers for Disease Control, around 300,000 people catch Lyme disease each year. This illness is caused by bacteria that is transmitted from one creature to another through the bite of an infected tick. Lyme disease, like other tick-borne illnesses may cause fatigue, fever, headaches and joint pain. Other tick-borne illnesses include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, Ehrlichiosis, and STARI (Southern tick- associated rash illness). There is even one tick, the Lone Star, whose bite can cause you to develop an allergy to red meat (beef, pork).
Protecting yourself and your family from tick bites simply requires a little extra effort and some common sense:
- Wear a hat. The easiest place for a tick to hide is your hair. Cover your head while in the woods to keep ticks from getting to your scalp.
- Wear long pants and long sleeves when in areas likely to have ticks. This may seem inconvenient in the summer, but ticks get on you as you brush against foliage. If you are wearing shorts, avoid long grass and dead leaves. By covering up, you are keeping any ticks that are on you away from your skin. Areas that are likely to be home to ticks are hiking trails, grassy fields and shrubbery.
- Stay in direct sunlight. Ticks dry out easily and therefore tend to avoid direct sunlight. Try to remain in the sun when you are trekking in tick country. Be wary that ticks lurk in the shadows so you should take the necessary precautions.
- Stay vigilant. Ticks live in your yard, too. Just because you are not on the Appalachian Trail, doesn’t mean you won’t pick up a tick. Ticks live right outside of your front door where they can hop on a shoe or sock and be carried into your home unnoticed. Check yourself and your children whenever you come inside.
- Check your pet. Ticks can catch a ride on your dog or cat as easily as they can on you. Make sure to give Fido and kitty a good rubdown or brushing, especially if they are an indoor/outdoor pet. This will help to keep the ticks outside.
- Wear light colored clothing. Ticks are small and hard to see. They can be spotted with greater ease when they don’t blend in with your attire.
- Consider using repellants. Spray clothing and exposed skin with 20-30% DEET taking care to avoid contact with face, hands, eyes & mouth. Treat tents, sleeping bags, boots, and other outdoor gear with 0.5% permethrin.
- Shower and then check yourself. When you come indoors from an activity, remove your clothes and put them in a heated dryer for an hour, then wash them. This will kill any ticks. Then shower and do an immediate self-examination. Time is of the essence because a tick that may have bitten you can take up to several hours to transfer infection.
- Remove the tick. If you find a tick on you, your child, or pet, remove it immediately with tweezers. Check the skin with a magnifying glass to ensure all tick parts are removed. Wash the area with soap and water, using a straight edge like a credit card to gently scrape the area.
If you remove an attached tick, mark your calendar and monitor for symptoms such as headache, fever, and joint pain for 21 days. You do not need to see your healthcare provider unless you develop symptoms. Sometimes a local reaction will result at the site of the bite. These reactions are usually self-limiting and do not require treatment, but can be itchy and worrisome. If you have concerns see your healthcare provider.
It is not necessary to save the tick. Ticks are not routinely tested by healthcare providers. Your provider will perform blood tests on you to help make a diagnosis if he or she is concerned about your symptoms. Stay safe and have a tick-free summer.
About the AuthorLayne Weaver, RN, FNP