As the weather warms and families spend more time outdoors, don’t forget to check for ticks.
All tick bites should be taken seriously because ticks are the leading carriers of diseases to humans in the United States, second only to mosquitoes worldwide.
The small spider-like animals bite to fasten themselves onto skin and feed on blood. They’re often found hiding in low brush which allows them to come in contact with a host – an animal or human. Once they catch a ride on a host they’ll live in the fur and feathers of many different animal species.
Most tick bites occur during early spring to late summer in areas with many wild animals and birds.
The toxins, secretions and organisms transmitted through a tick’s saliva are the sources of the tick-borne diseases. Most ticks do not carry diseases, and most tick bites do not cause serious health problems.
It’s still very important to remove a tick as soon as it is found. The sooner a tick is removed, the less likely it is to transmit disease.
Care should be used to remove the tick’s head to prevent an infection in the skin where the bite occurred. Use fine-tipped tweezers to properly remove an attached tick.
Grab the tick as close to its mouth as possible. The body of the tick will often be above the skin’s surface, but its head and mouth will likely be buried. Grabbing the tick by its belly can force infected fluids out of its mouth and into the skin.
Pull the tick straight out until its mouth lets go of the skin. Put the removed tick in a dry jar or Ziploc bag and save it in the freezer for later identification if symptoms appear and medical attention is needed.
Wash the area where the tick was attached with warm, soapy water and apply an antibiotic ointment to the bite area to help prevent infection.
Many tick-borne diseases cause flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and muscle aches. Symptoms may begin from one to three weeks after the tick bite. Sometimes a rash or sore appears along with the flu-like symptoms.
Common tick-borne diseases include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, ehrlichiosis, relapsing fever and babesiosis.
Lyme disease is spread by the bite of ticks infected with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi.
Symptoms include fatigue, headache, stiff neck, fever, muscle or joint pain, swelling, and sometimes an expanding red rash. If a rash develops, it may look like a target or bull’s-eye in some people.
Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to many other conditions and tests do not always detect the bacteria. It is usually effectively treated with a short course of antibiotics. If not treated properly, it can lead to complications involving the heart, nervous system, joints and skin within weeks, months or even years later.
When returning home after spending time in areas where ticks may live, always carefully check for ticks on the skin and scalp. A little time spent conducting a tick check may prevent days, weeks or months of illness.
—By Jeff L. Makemson, Certified Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources