By Dr. Greg Sweat
Nobody likes to find a tick on themselves or someone close to them. Not only are they difficult to remove, but can carry diseases that can be transmitted to people. The best way to avoid a tick-born disease is to avoid ticks all together.
Ticks are more active in the spring and summer and are found in wooded and high-foliage areas. Avoid these areas and walk in the center of trails if hiking. However, if you’re cleaning out brush from your yard or planning a family camping trip, be proactive about preventing ticks.
Use insect repellents.
- DEET – Use 20 percent DEET on exposed skin, which should protect you for several hours. Follow the product instructions.
- Permethrin – Apply to clothing, tents or gear if camping or walking in a tick-infested area. This should last through several washings.
Find and remove ticks.
- Bathe as soon as possible to find ticks and remove them.
- Do a full-body tick check as soon as you return from an area that might have ticks. Parents should check their children as well.
- Examine gear and pets. Ticks can come home with us on clothing and pets.
- Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.
Some ticks can carry germs that can cause disease in humans. Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, and Ehrlichiosis are just a few. We hear the most about Lyme disease that is transmitted by the blacklegged tick, otherwise known as the deer tick. The tick must be attached for at least 36 hours to transmit the germs to the individual.
Not everyone who is bitten by a tick will become ill, but there are symptoms you should be aware of. Many tick-borne illnesses can have similar symptoms. If you have been bitten by a tick and develop the symptoms below within a few weeks, see your doctor for evaluation. The illness you may develop will also vary based on the tick and the geographic region where you contracted it.
The most common symptoms of tick-related illnesses are:
- Fever/chills. Most tick-associated illnesses can cause a fever to varying degrees.
- Aches and pains. Some illnesses can cause headaches, joint pain and muscle aches to variable degrees.
- Rash. Certain illnesses cause certain rashes that are fairly distinct and readily identifiable.
Tick-borne illnesses can result in fairly mild symptoms that require little treatment, but can cause severe infections. See your doctor immediately if you have been bitten by a tick and experience these symptoms.
If you have a tick, removal must be your focus as soon as possible. While covering the tick in petrolatum, or burning the tick to make it let go may work, the best way is to grasp it as close to the skin as possible with tweezers and lift slowly straight up.
This weekly sponsored Community Health Update is brought to you by Shawnee Mission Medical Center.
Greg Sweat, MD, is a long-time Prairie Village resident and Board-certified Family Medicine doctor at Shawnee Mission Primary Care, which has six locations throughout Johnson County. To find a doctor, call the ASK-A-NURSE Resource Center at 913-676-7777 or visit shawneemission.org/primarycare.