Ticks: If you can’t avoid them, what do you do with them

Ticks: If you can’t avoid them, what do you do with them

By Kelly Roncace, South Jersey Times

Nothing can ruin a fun day outdoors like discovering a tick has latched onto your skin, is sucking your blood and threatening to possibly pass an infectious disease your way.

The quick warm up has brought these tiny ectoparasites out in droves, according to local doctors.

"I pulled one off of my husband already this year and he never gets ticks," said Dr. Angela Oates, infectious disease specialist on staff at The Memorial Hospital of Salem County. "I can't say for sure, but it seems like there are way more this season so far."

Dr. Alison Mancuso, a Rowan School of Medicine family physician in the Washington Township office, said she has seen quite a few cases during the past couple weeks.

"It's been so warm that they have definitely populated quickly," Mancuso said.

But even though these tiny creatures are out there in the grass and trees, hoping to chow down on your hemoglobin, there are ways to avoid them and keep yourself safe while enjoying the outdoors.

"To avoid ticks, use an insect repellent, but be sure it says that it repels ticks because some only work on mosquitos or biting flies," Oates said. "Spray it on all exposed areas, even strange places like behind your neck."

Oates also suggests spraying repellent on your clothing.

"Spray a light coating on your pants and socks," she said. "They can crawl up your sock and get inside your pant leg."

Also, if you're walking through a wooded area, try not to brush up against bushes or hit low-hanging tree branches with your head because the insects can fall out of the trees and onto your body.

"They like light-colored, warm places, like behind the ears, armpits and the groin area," Mancuso said.

Once your adventure is complete and you head back indoors, do a "tick check."

"Look at your skin and don't forget the strange places like behind your knees," Oates said. "Use a mirror for your back and neck."

If a tick is found crawling on the body, it most likely hasn't bitten yet, she said.

"A lot of times, they will bite you and go on their way and that is generally OK," Mancuso said. "But if a tick adheres to you, you run the risk of getting Lyme disease or any of the other diseases ticks carry."

Oates said when ticks bite, they immediately stick their head into the skin and can stay for 24 to 48 hours — sometimes even up to 72 hours — until it is fully engorged and falls off.

"If you can get the tick off right away, you most likely won't have any problems and it's probably not going to make you sick," Oates said. 

When removing a tick, Oates said to use "good tweezers, sharp ones that can grip fine objects," and grab the bug as close to the head as possible.

"Once you grab the tick, pull steadily, don't yank," she said. "Keep firm, steady, slow pressure on it and it should come out."

Despite medical myth, if the head pops off and remains under the skin, do not try to cut it out.

"If you leave the head in the skin, it's really not as dangerous as people think," Oates said. "Just keep an eye on it. Over time, a week or two, your immune system will destroy it."

Mancuso said once the tick is removed, it can be tested.

"If you bring the tick to the doctor in a sealed container, it can be tested for Lyme disease," she said. "It can be dead, but you don't have to kill it. If the tick doesn't carry Lyme disease, you can't get it."

Oates said if the tick is found and removed quickly, the person will most likely not be affected by the insect's bite.

"A tick has to be in your skin for 48 hours to cause Lyme disease, and that's only if the tick carries the disease," she said. "Once you get the tick off, don't crush it in case it does have the Lyme bacteria. Flush it down the toilet or rinse it down the sink drain. Just be sure to run plenty of water after it. Or you could put the tick into a bottle filled with water, shake it a little and it should drown."

Once removed, cleanse the skin with rubbing alcohol and apply a topical antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin to prevent any infection.

If a bull's-eye rash appears on the skin after an encounter with a tick, it could indicate Lyme disease.

"The bull's-eye rash, called Erythema Migrans and (it) looks like the Target sign, can be from four to eight inches in diameter, so you will definitely notice it," Oates said. "When it first bites you and you remove it, you may have a small allergic reaction. If it's a red mark, maybe an inch in diameter, don't worry."

Mancuso said the rash won't necessarily appear at the exact site of the tick bite.

"The rash is caused by a reaction to the toxins the tick puts into your body after it bites you," she said.

If that rash appears, and is flat and red, not painful but warm to the touch, the patient should immediately go to the doctor to be tested for Lyme disease.

"The test doesn't look for the Lyme bacteria, it looks for the antibodies released by the immune system to fight the bacteria," Oates explained.

If a patient tests positive for Lyme disease, a 21 to 28 day treatment period begins.

"A patient may still have pain for a few months to a year after they finish with the medication," Oates said. "The Lyme bacteria is dead after you complete the antibiotic, but it takes the body that long to fix the damage that has been done."

Mancuso said symptoms of Lyme disease in addition to the rash are fever, headache, fatigue and joint pain.

"In this area, if you know you got bit, you should go see a doctor within 72 hours," Mancuso said. "If you were exposed to Lyme disease, the doctor can give you a one-dose antibiotic so the Lyme disease won't take hold in your system."

Once a patient tests positive for Lyme, they will always produce a positive test result for the disease.

"It will always test positive because your system has produced the antibody against the bacteria," Oates explained.

Additional Details:

Date Published: Thursday, July 3, 2014 - 14:15
Source URL: South Jersey Times