When are people most at risk of a tick bite?
People are most at risk of tick bites in May, June, and July, when larva ticks begin to mature into the next life stage, known as nymphs. Nymph ticks are tiny, about the size of a poppy seed, are very hard to spot, and they are on the hunt for blood to feed on to survive. Adult ticks, the next life stage, are about the size of a sesame seed. They come out in the fall and also need blood to survive, but because of their larger size, which makes them easier to spot, coupled with less outdoor human activity, they are responsible for only about 10 percent of Lyme disease.
Then are we in the clear after the summer?
No. The life cycle of black-legged ticks is two years and they live through the winter, though they are far less active at that time of year. If the daytime temperature rises above 45 degrees, ticks may emerge to feed. If you take a walk through woods where ticks are prevalent on an unseasonably warm winter day, be sure to check yourself, your kids, and your pets for ticks.
How can being bitten when enjoying the outdoors be avoided?
If hiking, stay on the path and don’t walk through leaf foliage or high grass. Ticks don’t jump on people like fleas, says Dr. Tokarz. They’ll stick out their front limbs in the air and grab on to whatever brushes by.
If you plan on being in a wooded, leafy area, you can spray your skin or clothes ahead of time. Permethrin is a terrific spray for your clothes that you can find in an outdoor gear store, says Dr. Fallon. It not only repels ticks but also kills them. If you spray it on your clothes at the beginning of tick season it will stay on for 20 to 40 washes, so it’s a good thing to do to help protect you and your children. For your skin, he suggests repellent that contains 20 to 30 percent of either DEET or picaridin, or repellent containing 30 percent of oil of lemon eucalyptus.
What kind of clothing should be worn when in a potentially tick-infested area?
Tick nymphs are about the size of a poppy seed and dark brown, making them very difficult to spot. Dr. Tokarz suggests wearing light-colored, long-sleeved shirts, and pants, which should be tucked into your socks. If you see a tick on your clothes, simply brush it off.
How should we check for ticks?
After you’ve gone camping or hiking or spent time gardening or mowing the lawn, do a thorough tick check. It’s important to check your hair, around your groin, your underarms, and behind your knees. The number-one advice for parents, Dr. Tokarz says, is to take off kids’ clothes and put the items in the washer and dryer to kill any ticks before performing a tick check.
Try to keep your pets from roaming in areas where ticks may be present. If they do, perform a thorough tick check, the same as you would do with children. If your pet is bitten and contracts Lyme, it can be treated with common antibiotics.
How are ticks removed?
Use tweezers to gently remove ticks. The CDC recommends pulling upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick, and don’t use petroleum jelly or a match to burn it off. If you pull the tick’s body off and the head stays on, that’s OK. It might itch for a few days then the head will detach on its own, but it doesn’t increase the risk of acquiring any diseases, says Dr. Tokarz. Once you have removed the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
Are there signs that someone might have Lyme disease?
A myth about Lyme disease is you’ll have an easily identifiable rash with a bulls-eye shape in the middle. That’s not always the case. The initial rash that indicates a tick has bitten you and transmitted the Lyme bacteria looks like a bulls-eye or target lesion only 10 to 20 percent of the time, says Dr. Fallon. More often it’s a solid rash that starts small and expands in size over a few days. There might also be no rash at all, or there may be multiple rashes. Also, be on the lookout for flu-like symptoms, such as a fever, stiff muscles, fatigue, and painful joints.
Is a person more likely to get sick the longer a tick stays on?
Yes. It’s best to remove the tick as soon as possible. If the black-legged tick, the species that carries the microbe that causes Lyme, is removed within 24 hours, you reduce the risk substantially of acquiring Lyme disease, says Dr. Fallon. The CDC notes that in most cases, the tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted. If the tick was on longer than 36 hours or if one feels sick after a tick bite of a shorter duration, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.
If I get Lyme disease, is it treatable?
Yes. Lyme disease is rarely fatal. Most often a doctor will prescribe common antibiotics, like doxycycline or amoxicillin, and a vast majority of the time a person will recover fully. Some people have an immune system strong enough to kill the bacteria without antibiotics, meaning even though they are infected, they will not show symptoms. If a patient received antibiotic treatments but continues to have persistent symptoms, such as chronic pain, fatigue, or memory loss, after one course of antibiotics, the clinician should consider that the cause might be either persistent infection or a post-infectious cause that might require other treatment approaches. These symptoms can last for months to years, and can be quite disabling.