By Jessica Duke, MD
Tick season is in full swing. For such tiny insects, ticks can transmit a lot of dangerous diseases, including Lyme, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Powassan virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Tularemia. Here are a few tick DO’s and DON’Ts to help you get through tick season safely:
Before you go outside:
- DON’T just assume that you won’t get bit. Know your risks. If you live in tick territory, you can get a tick bite in your own backyard!
- DO wear protective clothing treated with Permethrin. Long sleeves, long pants tucked into socks, and close-toe shoes will prevent ticks from getting on your skin.
- DO treat your skin with insect repellant. There are many options so make sure to read the instructions carefully.
- DO consult your veterinarian about how to protect your pets against ticks.
When you go outside:
- DO create a tick-free zone around your house. Keep your lawn mown, eliminate any rodent habitats (wood or rock piles) around your house, and place wood chips between your lawn and tall grasses or woods.
- DO avoid exposure in wooded, overgrown areas by staying on marked trails when hiking.
After you come inside:
- DO perform a tick check. This means performing both visual and physical inspection of your entire body, as well as your gear and pets. Make sure to examine your scalp, ears, underarms, navel, groin, buttocks, and behind your knees. If camping, perform tick checks daily.
- DO shower and wash your clothes after returning home from enjoying the outdoors.
If you or a family member gets bit by a tick:
- DON’T panic and immediately rush to the emergency room. If the tick has not been attached to you for more than a day, the chance of the tick transmitting one of these diseases is very low. The one exception is Powassan virus that can be transmitted in as little as 15 minutes!
- DO remove the tick as quickly as possible.
- DON’T try to burn off the tick or suffocate it with petroleum jelly, hot wax, or nail polish. These techniques are not very effective, increase the time the tick is attached, and just make the tick more difficult to grasp.
- DO use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- DON’T squeeze or crush the body of the tick. This may force the tick to regurgitate infected body fluids into the skin.
- DON’T pull back sharply. This may tear the mouthparts and leave them embedded in your skin.
- DO pull upward with steady, even pressure.
- DON’T try to dig out the mouthparts of the tick if left in the skin. These parts do not transmit diseases and will work their way out on their own.
- DON’T crush the tick with your fingers once it is removed from your skin.
- DO dispose of the tick by flushing it down the toilet, crushing it in duct tape, or submersing it in alcohol.
- DO watch out for rashes and viral-like symptoms (fever, body aches) after the tick bite. The type of rash varies depending on the disease the tick may have transmitted.
- DO talk to your doctor if you do notice a rash or symptoms and make sure to tell them about your recent tick bite, including when the bite occurred and where you most likely acquired the tick. These diseases are very treatable if caught early enough!