If you’re familiar with deer ticks (also known as bear or blacklegged
ticks), you know what to look for after you’ve gone camping or hiking.
However, if you’re unaware of what ticks look like and where they
hide, it can be difficult to tell whether or not you’ve been bitten.
What Are Ticks?
Ticks are bloodsucking parasites that require a meal of blood before transitioning
from one life stage to another. For example, a deer tick larva will need
to feed on blood before transforming into its larger, adult, hard-bodied
form. Full-grown adult ticks can be the size of an apple seed, even after
a large meal, but younger ticks can be as small as grains of sand. They
also live outdoors in shrubs, trees, grass, and piles of leaves. Wearing
long sleeves and pants can protect you from attack, while wearing sandals,
shorts, and short sleeves exposes your skin. If you brush against a bush
or shrub with an exposed leg, a tick can easily attach.
Checking for Ticks
After you’ve been hiking, camping, or otherwise exposed to grassy
or shrub-heavy areas, it’s a good idea to check yourself and your
loved ones for tick bites. Ticks don’t jump, they crawl. A tick
will most likely wind up on your feet and legs and move its way upward.
They also will choose areas most likely to yield blood, which means places
where the skin is thinnest. When looking for ticks, check:
- The scalp, under the hair
- The neck area
- Behind ears
- In armpits
- In the groin area
- Under breasts
- In the navel
- Behind the knees
- Between legs
- Around the waist
Ticks can also hide on clothing, so throw everything into a dryer for about
10 minutes on high heat to kill any insects that may be hidden on them.
Add more time if the clothing is moist. While not every tick you find
will be a deer tick (some are dog ticks, which carry different diseases),
you will want to remove it as quickly and safely as possible. Deer ticks
tend to be more dangerous because they act as vectors for Lyme disease,
a bacterial infection that leads to flu-like symptoms and can cause heart
problems if left untreated. It’s also easier to check for ticks
on other people, so ask a friend or family member to help you.
Removing the Tick
There are a lot of folk remedies floating around the internet about how
to remove a tick. The best way, according to the Center for Disease control,
is to use a fine-tipped pair of tweezers. Grasp the tick as close as possible
to the surface of the skin and pull upward with steady, even pressure.
You want to detach as much of the tick as possible without leaving any
mouthparts behind because it will increase your chances of infection if
the tick is a vector for bacteria. If any mouthparts remain, try to remove
as much of them as possible with clean tweezers before cleaning the area
thoroughly with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water. Get
rid of the tick by throwing it in a plastic bag, a container of alcohol,
wrapping it in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never touch the tick
directly with your fingers.
Keep an Eye on Your Health
While catching Lyme disease is relatively rare if you’ve found the
tick before it has been feeding for 36 hours (the amount of time needed
for the bacteria to transfer), be aware that it is possible for infection
to occur after as little as 15 minutes of tick attachment. Watch the site
of the bite. If a rash develops, it could be an early sign of Lyme disease.
Flu-like symptoms can also indicate early stages of Lyme disease. Remember
that almost 50% of people never see a rash, so flu-like symptoms after
hiking or camping or just working in the garden, even without a rash,
might be a sign of Lyme disease.
It is possible to have an allergic reaction to contact with a tick. While
not all allergic reactions are severe, if you have difficulty breathing
after a tick bite, take an antihistamine (such as Benadryl) as soon as
possible right after calling 911. Some people with tick allergies experience
anaphylactic shock. If this is the case, don’t worry about removing
the tick. It can be removed later at the hospital after you’ve been
given treatment for the allergic reaction.
If you’ve been bitten by a deer tick and you think you may have developed
Lyme disease, contact us at the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine.
We offer free case consultations, and our Scottsdale Lyme disease treatment
center specializes in these cases. Stay healthy and stay safe.