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Be on the Lookout for Ticks

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, so it’s a great time to familiarize yourself with what to watch out for and what to do if you are bitten by a tick. At this time of year, ticks are in the nymph stage and can be as small as a poppy seed, so they are very hard to spot on your body. If you take precautions, learn how to remove a tick, and know the signs to look out for if you start developing symptoms, you can prevent yourself from getting really ill.

Tick-borne Diseases: Blacklegged ticks carry a whole host of bacteria besides Borrelia burgdorferi, commonly known as Lyme disease. They also can carry associated diseases such as Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Bartonella, Anaplasmosis, Myiamotois infection, Poawassan virus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and others. If you suspect you have Lyme disease, it is important you go to a doctor who has experience and knowledge in treating Lyme, “a “Lyme Literate MD (LLMD)” who will make sure to test you for co-infections. Not all labs will test for co-infections. The organization International Lyme and Associated Diseases organization is one of the best and most accurate resources on the subject and has a page where you can find an LLMD near you.

Prevention: The best way to prevent yourself from getting Lyme is to avoid long grasses, wear long sleeves and long pants when in the woods or areas that are prone to ticks, treat your clothes with permethrin, and wear an insect repellent containing DEET. If you want a more natural repellant, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus can be used as well. Check your whole body for ticks when you come home, and have someone help you if possible to look at your back and the back of your arms and legs.

Symptoms: Although an Erythema multiforme (EM) rash, commonly called a bulls-eye rash, only appears on less than 20% of infected people, so you can not count on having a rash to know if you have Lyme or a co-infection. The rash can look differently on people, and is frequently elliptical in shape, and not round like a dartboard. Since you most likely will not have a rash, if you notice symptoms after being in a wooded or grassy area, you should see a doctor right away. The most common symptoms are extreme fatigue, body aches/muscle, joint pain, headaches, and “brain fog”. Some people will develop fever, anxiety, heart issues, and other symptoms.

How to Remove a Tick: Most people with Lyme do not remember seeing a tick on them, as the tick already detached itself by the time they notice a bulls-eye rash or feel ill. If you do have a tick on you, DO NOT squeeze it, put Vaseline on it, or hold a hot match to it. These commonly used methods actually increase the chance of transmitting the disease. Use fine pointed tweezers to grasp the tick from the side where it meets the skin and using steady and gentle pressure, carefully pull the tick in the opposite direction from which it is embedded, until the tick is released. Place the tick in a plastic bag and bring it with you to your Lyme doctor for resting. The longer it is attached, the higher the risk of infection, however, there are some co-infections that can be transmitted in less than 24-hours, so take precautions even if the tick was removed quickly.

Treatment: Antibiotic treatment is recommended for everyone who knows that they have been bitten by a tick even if they get a negative test because the testing is not always accurate and most labs do not test for co-infections. Doxycycline is effective with Lyme and should be taken for 3-6 weeks. However, some of the co-infections such as Babesia, Powassan virus, and Bartonella are not responsive to Doxycycline and need different antibiotics.

Documentaries: There are several documentaries available for viewing online: Under Our Skin, Under Our Skin Part II: Emergence, and The Monster Inside Me.

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