As the weather turns warmer and we start venturing outdoors again, be aware of ticks and tick bites this spring and summer. Here are some ideas to help prevent tick bites and what to do if you do get bit.
Knowing where ticks prefer to live is the first step in avoiding tick bites. Ticks prefer the outdoors; usually in moist humid environments in or near wooded/grassy areas but ticks can be found in almost any outdoor environment. Exposure to ticks usually occurs when we find ourselves outdoors, in or around these areas. Exposure to animals, such as dogs, cats, and deer, which carry ticks, can also bring ticks in to homes, vehicles and other living areas.
Help prevent tick bites when outdoors by wearing appropriate clothing and using tick repellent. Wearing long sleeved shirts and pants are effective in preventing ticks but do not eliminate the possibility of bites. The use of DEET insect repellent is very effective in stopping tick bites while outdoors. DEET is safe to use in children older than 2 months. DEET is safe to use on the face, but keep it out of eyes and mouth. As with all insect repellents, please read product labels and instructions.
After returning inside, check your clothes, shoes and socks for ticks that may have hitched a ride but have not bitten or attached to skin. A quick scan of exposed skin will also spot ticks that may have not attached. It is also helpful to check waist bands and any other areas of snug fitting clothing. Help younger children check their skin to include the hairlines for loose ticks. Common areas for ticks to bite and attach are under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, on the backside of the knees, between the legs, around the waist and within the hairline. It is recommended to shower within 2 hours from returning from outdoors when ticks and tick bites are suspected to prevent loose ticks from biting and attaching. Be sure to protect pets from ticks and fleas as well with anti-tick/flea shampoos or medications.
If a tick is found attached to the skin, removal as soon as possible as it is the best option to prevent burrowing deeper and causing medical problems. To remove a tick, grasp it with tweezers as close to the skin surface as possible and pull straight up. Do not twist, pry, or apply leverage or sideways force to remove the tick. Doing so could result the breaking off of mouth parts that could remain in the skin and cause damage or infection.
In Southeast Nebraska, Lyme disease is the number one concern when it comes to infections transmitted by ticks. Typically, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease is only transmitted from ticks to humans after being attached and feeding for greater than 36 hours. Symptoms of Lyme disease can show up days to weeks after the initial bite. The usual first symptom of Lyme disease is a large “bulls-eye” rash that is red and circular with a clear middle that is skin colored. Other symptoms include fatigue, tiredness, mild headaches, mild neck stiffness, muscle pains, and joint pains. There are lab tests available to detect Lyme disease but diagnosis is usually based on symptoms and the presence of a tick bite. Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed for a tick bite to prevent Lyme disease without the symptoms. A one day antibiotic is what required for treatment without disease. This treatment is most effective if started within three days of the bite. If the disease is not treated early on, worsening symptoms can occur and further, more intense medications are required.
If you are out and about enjoying the outdoors this spring and summer, be sure to protect yourself and your loved ones against ticks and the diseases they carry.