Summertime tick bites: When is it time for the doctor?
We’ve seen a significant increase in tick bites in our office, and it looks like it might be one of the worst summers on record due to an increase in the tick population. Why, you might ask? Our mild winter increased ticks’ ability to sur vive and reproduce. Because of this, we started off the spring with the largest tick population in recent years.
Many people in our area associate ticks with Lyme disease, a bacterial disease. Ticks, however, also carry viral illnesses like Powassan and parasitic diseases like babesiosis.
So what should you do to protect yourself and your family?
The best prevention is avoiding ticks and being smart outdoors.
Avoid places with thick vegetation and high grass.
Walk in the center of trails when hiking.
Use an insect and tick repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin or IR3535 on exposed skin. This should provide protection that lasts several hours.
Treat clothing and gear using products that contain permethrin, or wear clothing pre-treated with permethrin. Permethrin won’t hurt humans or dogs, but don’t allow cats near permethrin-treated clothing until it has fully dried. Permethrin is harmful to bees, fish and aquatic insects, so don’t spray your clothing near flowers or water sources.
If you find a tick, there are lots of opinions on how to handle it. My recommendation is to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance:
Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouthparts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
When to call the doctor Tick-borne diseases can vary from mild symptoms treatable at home to infections requiring medical care. Early diagnosis and treatment of the infection decreases the risk of serious complications.
If you are bit by a tick, call your health care provider to determine the appropriate treatment if you develop:
Fever/chills. With all tick-borne diseases, you may experience fever at varying degrees and time of onset.
Aches and pains. Tick-borne disease symptoms include headache, fatigue and muscle aches. You may also experience joint pain with L yme disease. The severity and how long it takes for these symptoms to develop can depend on the disease.
Rash. Depending on the disease carried by the tick, a variety of rashes may form.
Jeffrey Denton, MD, is a primary care doctor with AAMG River Family Physicians in Easton. You can reach him by calling 410-820-7270.
DR. JEFF DENTON