Tick bites and Lyme disease are a common source of concern during the summer months. Only deer ticks – particularly the larvae – carry the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease. Deer tick larvae are small brown or black ticks about the size of a poppy seed. They become larger if engorged with blood from a host. Ticks can carry bacteria that can be transmitted to its host, causing infection. However, it is important to remember that not all ticks are infected, and that a tick must attach itself and feed for more than 36 hours in order to transmit infection.
What should I do if I find a tick on me?
If you discover a tick on your body, you should remove it by grasping it with fine tipped tweezers as close to your skin as possible. Pull back firmly and steadily but don’t jerk or twist, trying not to crush the body of the tick. Once the tick is removed, wash your skin with soap and water and treat your skin as you would for any other insect bite. Do not try to scrape out any remaining mouthparts as this may cause more trauma to your skin. These parts will work themselves out on their own.
When should I call my health care provider?
Call if you discover an attached or engorged tick and you believe that your initial exposure was more than 36 hours ago. There are generally two approaches to take:
- Option #1: Treat with a preventive antibiotic if you meet certain criteria, including beginning the antibiotic within 72 hours of tick removal.
- Option #2: Observe for signs and symptoms of illness like fever, headache, muscle aches and a bulls-eye rash, and treat if any of these occur. Treating Lyme disease once you become symptomatic is still very successful.
Is there a blood test you can do?
Doing a blood test at the time of the bite is not useful as your body hasn’t had enough time for an antibody response. However, if there is concern about infection, doing a blood test 4-6 weeks after a tick bite can be helpful.
Can I prevent tick bites?
- To help prevent tick bites, wear long sleeves and long pants tucked into your socks when doing an activity that may expose you to ticks.
- Wear light colored clothing as it makes ticks easier to spot.
- Use an insect repellant such as DEET or Picardin.
- Look for ticks on yourself after activities that may have exposed you.
- Ticks can also attach to pets, so remember to check them frequently too.
Learn more about tick bites and Lyme disease.