Recently bitten by a tick? Don’t panic! The bite itself does not spread Lyme disease. The Lyme-carrying organism actually lives in the tick’s stomach. Only after it feeds on your blood for 24 to 36 hours can it backwash the disease into your bloodstream. So, if you get in the daily habit of examining your skin and removing any ticks you acquired that day, you’ll be fine.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should follow these steps if you have experienced a tick bite:
- To remove the tick, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Avoid folklore remedies like nail polish, petroleum jelly, or heat to make the tick detach from the skin.
- 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 mouth-parts with clean tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth parts easily, leave them alone and let the skin heal (like you would for a tiny splinter – no difference).
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, an iodine scrub, or an anti-bacterial soap and water.
After removal of the tick, you may notice some redness and itching around the bite. Some people have more sensitive skin than others, but 3 to 5 days of redness, itching, warmth and irritation similar to that of a mosquito bite is a common reaction. Redness alone does not mean Lyme disease.
Antibiotics for Lyme disease?
Antibiotic treatment as a means of prevention of Lyme disease is not recommended, and may, in fact, delay onset of disease. However, in areas where Lyme disease is common, such as here in central Pennsylvania, a preventative single dose of an antibiotic called doxycycline may be offered to adult patients who are not pregnant, and to children older than 8 years of age when all of the following conditions exist:
- You are not allergic to doxycycline and have no contraindications to its use.
- The attached tick can be identified as an adult or nymphal I. scapularis tick.
- The estimated time of attachment is longer than 36 hours based on the degree of tick engorgement with blood or likely time of exposure to the tick.
- Prophylaxis can be started within 72 hours of tick removal.
- Lyme disease is common in the county or state where the patient lives or has recently traveled.
Prevention is key
Avoiding tick bites in the first place is always your best bet. The CDC recommends:
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon, eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone.
- Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5% permethrin. Tape around your ankles and wrists if working in tall grass or forests.
- Treat pets for ticks as recommended by a veterinarian.
- Check for ticks daily, especially under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and on the hairline and scalp.
- Shower soon after being outdoors.
- Landscaping techniques such as mowing the lawn frequently, stacking wood neatly in dry areas, and clearing tall grasses and brush can help reduce tick populations in the yard.
- Don’t kill tick-eating wildlife like opossums, and encourage songbirds with feeders. Even wild turkeys and chickens eat ticks.
If you’ve been bitten by a tick, remove it and clean the area as soon as possible. If you believe the tick has been attached to you for longer than 36 hours or it has been attached for an unknown length of time, then it is appropriate to contact your primary care doctor for treatment in the form of a one-time dose of antibiotics to prevent Lyme disease. People who experience a tick bite should be alert for symptoms suggestive of tick-borne illness such as a fever, rash, joint swelling or swollen lymph nodes, which often present 1 to 2 weeks after the bite. If these or any other concerning symptoms develop, then contact your doctor for testing and treatment.
For more information on tick borne illnesses, visit cdc.gov.
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