With the first warm weekend this month, I decided to do some mulching in my yard. At the end of the day, I found an uninvited visitor on my leg– a tick.
As summer draws near, ticks are going to increase in number. According to the CDC, there are about five different types of ticks in Virginia. And Lyme disease is not the only disease these tiny pests can carry. They can also cause Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Anaplasmosis, STARI and Erlichiosis. So what can you do to protect yourself and your family?
Steps to Staying Tick-Free
- First of all, avoid ticks when possible. Ticks like to hang out in wooded and grassy areas. They usually live on wildlife, such as deer and rodents. So, areas that have naturally high concentrations of deer will have a proportionately high tick population.
- Take precautions. When venturing into these areas, cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeves, pants and a hat. Apply a spray that contains 20% DEET (Deep Woods Off is what I use) on exposed skin and clothing that may come into contact with ticks (pants/boots). Permethrin-treated clothing that repels ticks is also available.
- Do a tick-check after outdoors activity. After being outdoors, promptly shower. Examine your body thoroughly. Ticks love to hide in warm, out-of-the-way spots like armpits, groins, the back of legs, behind ears and even on your scalp. Examine any gear or pets that were outside as well. Ticks like to hitch rides on anything that crosses their path.
How to Remove a Tick Safely
If you do find a tick on you, don’t panic. The goal is to remove a tick as quickly as possible. The less time it is attached to you, the less likely you are to get Lyme disease or other tick-borne illness. So, don’t attempt any folklore remedies, such as painting the tick with nail polish and letting it fall off on its own.
- Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible.
- Use gentle upward pressure to pull the tick off. Do not twist or yank, as you may cause the mouth piece or head to break off and be left behind in your skin. If this does happen, try to remove the mouth piece as well with tweezers.
- After removing the tick, clean the area with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.
The tick usually leaves a small red bump at the site it attached, this is normal. However, you need to monitor the site for a rash over the next week or two. Other symptoms to watch for are fevers, joint pain and headaches. Let your primary care physician know about your tick bite.
For the majority of cases, I recommend watchful waiting if you do not have any of the symptoms mentioned. If you have any concerning symptoms, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
About Dr. Susan Szulc
Susan V. Szulc, MD, is a board-certified internist with Bon Secours Medical Associates at Virginia Beach. She received her bachelor of science in microbiology from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. Dr. Szulc earned her medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk, Va., where she also completed a residency in internal medicine. Dr. Szulc is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. She is a member of the American Medical Association, American College of Physicians and American Medical Women’s Association. Dr. Szulc’s special interests include palliative care and hypertension.