Ticks & Lyme Disease

Ticks & Lyme Disease

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article titled “This Summer Will Be a Tick Fest. Know What to Do if You Get Bitten.”

According to the article, a state-owned research facility in Connecticut, which encourages people to send in removed ticks, has reported more than a 20% increase in total ticks received in comparison to this time last year. This is likely due to the mild winter we had, as shorter, warmer winters have lengthened the time that ticks can be active. As such, we have included some guidance regarding ticks, Lyme disease, and some additional information for your reference.

There are many different types of ticks—some present a larger risk for transmitting infections to humans than others. As an example, the only tick that causes Lyme disease, the blacklegged (deer) tick, can cause co-infec- tions such as ehrlichia (anaplasmosis) and/or babesiosis. Fortunately, Lyme disease and anaplasmosis are treated with the same antibiotic, so a person getting treatment for Lyme disease will also be treated for anaplasmosis. Babesiosis, however, is a parasitic disease that is treated with different medications. The risk of infection depends on the type of tick and the location of the tick bite. Ticks can only cause an infection if they are attached and embedded in your skin and are simultaneously feeding. Expedited removal of a tick is critical to avoid illness as a tick must be attached for longer than 24 hours in order for it to transmit disease.

The best method to avoid a tick-borne illness is preven- tion—insect repellent is paramount in terms of avoiding tick bites. Performing tick checks and routine showering after prolonged outdoor exposure is helpful to avoid ticks becoming embedded in the skin. The earlier a tick is spotted, the less likely it will transmit infection.

Tick removal is best accomplished using tweezers as close to the skin as possible. It is a widely held, misguided belief that burning a tick with a match or using other household substances such as kerosene oil can be used to remove or kill the tick. In reality, these methods may actually irritate the tick and increase the potential for infection.

The proper method of tick removal is as follows:

1. Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible.

2. Use pressure to pull the tick out of the skin.

3. Do not crush or macerate the tick.

4. After removal of the tick, sterilize the area with alcohol pads, soap, and water. Antibiotic ointment may be helpful if the removal was traumatic.

5. If any parts of the tick remain embedded, do not attempt removal as this may also be a risk for increas- ing the infectious potential of that tick.

Information about the size, color, or length of time a tick has been embedded is helpful so that your physician can decide whether any treatment is warranted. A single dose of doxycycline (200 mg) can be quite effective at preventing Lyme infection. Doxycycline is most effective within 72 hours of the bite, so contacting your physician as soon as possible after a tick bite is crucial. There is no need to have a tick tested to identify the species, and Lyme testing is not recommended directly after a tick bite as it takes weeks for a Lyme test to become positive. If you notice a rash or other any other symptoms developing (fever, headache, muscle pain, fatigue), contact your physician immediately so that they can devise a testing strategy for tick-borne illnesses and implement the proper treatment.

Additional Lyme disease and tick removal guidance from the CDC can be found here.

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