Preventing Tick-borne Illnesses
Deer ticks (also known as Ixodes scapularis) carry more than Lyme disease. There are at least five infections one could get if bitten by a deer tick: Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Borrelia miyamotoi and Powassan disease.
Symptoms of Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis Babesiosis and Borrelia miyamotoi are very similar and include fever, headaches, body aches and sometimes a skin rash. Powassan disease is more distinct as it can cause meningitis and encephalitis, which causes fevers, headache, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties and seizures.
Preventing tick bites is the primary way to prevent tick-borne infections.
What are some preventive steps?
There are a number of preventive steps you can take. When you go outside, be as covered as possible with long sleeves and pants, tucking pants into socks and shirts into pants. Using insect repellant can greatly reduce the risk of getting a tick bite. You could also wear clothing that has been treated with permethrin (a plant-based insecticide that works on contact). Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and walk in the center of trails. Finally, do frequent tick checks. Clothes placed in the dryer on high for 10 minutes will kill ticks. Showering within two hours of coming indoors will helps wash off unattached ticks. Perform full body tick checks including under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, back of the knees, in and around the hair, between the leg, and around the waist.
What to do if you find a tick on you?
Don’t panic! Remove the tick as soon as possible and be sure to check carefully for any other ticks. Be sure to monitor for symptoms of infection
How do you remove an attached tick if you find one?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these tips:
- 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 mouth-parts 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 or soap and water.
- Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.
What to do if you develop symptoms of infection?
After any tick exposure, you should monitor for symptoms of infection. If you develop any symptoms listed above within several weeks of removing a tick, call your doctor and be sure to tell them about your recent tick bite.
If you do not recall having been bitten by a tick, but you notice that you have symptoms consistent with any of the tick-borne diseases, then you should call your doctor. There is treatment available for Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis and Borrelia miyamotoi.
For more information about tick-borne diseases visit the Centers for Disease and Control website here.
Antonia Altomare, DO, MPH, Hospital Epidemiologist, Infectious Disease and International Health, Dartmouth-Hitchcock.