Dartmouth Health Infectious Disease Specialist Jeffrey Parsonnet, MD, shares some helpful tips about what we need to know about tick-borne illnesses and how to avoid them.
Why should we worry about ticks?
Ticks warrant our attention because their bites can result in 5 five diseases in our region: Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Borrelia miyamotoi and Powassan virus disease.
Why are we hearing more about babesiosis?
Babesiosis has been causing infections along coastal New England for decades; however, we are seeing cases in patients more frequently throughout northern New England.
Babesiosis is a parasitic infection (vs. Lyme disease, which is bacterial). It is a bit like a weak cousin of malaria. Most people who get it have a mild form and resolve the infection without treatment. But people with compromised immune systems can get severe infections.
How can we identify different types of ticks?
There are websites to help with tick identification, including the CDC. Ticks can also be submitted to a clinical lab, like the Dartmouth Hitchcock Pathology Lab, through your care provider.
The tick that causes these 5 diseases is the deer tick. Deer ticks are smaller than dog ticks. If you find a large tick crawling on your skin, it’s likely a dog tick.
What should we do if we have an attached tick?
Remove it with a good pair of tweezers and be sure to remove the entire tick, including mouth parts that can remain in place after the body is removed. After removal, dispose of it by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag, wrapping it tightly in tape or flushing it down the toilet.
What are the symptoms of tick-related illness?
Each tick-borne disease has different symptoms, but flu-like illness (fever, body aches, headache) that develops during the spring, summer or fall, could be a sign. Headache, weakness, fatigue and joint aches might also accompany the flu-like symptoms. The primary symptom of Lyme disease is a flat, expanding red rash.
It is hard to distinguish these diseases on the basis of symptoms alone, so consult with your primary care provider.
When should we call the doctor?
Finding an embedded tick is enough of a reason to call your care provider because treatment with an antibiotic may be necessary. If any illness with a fever develops during the spring, summer or fall that is not clearly being caused by something else—like a urinary tract infection or gastrointestinal illness—it should prompt a call to your care provider.
How can we avoid ticks?
Avoid grassy, brushy or wooded areas, and walk in the center of trails when hiking. Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin, a type of insecticide. Wear light-colored clothing that makes it easier to see ticks, and that covers your arms and legs. Tuck your pants into your socks.
Check your clothing for ticks when coming indoors, then shower soon after and do a full body check. Putting your clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes will kill ticks. Don’t forget to examine your pets for ticks.
Use an insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or another EPA-registered repellent. The EPA has a search tool that can help people find the best product for them.