Ticks: Fight the Bite Year-Round

In Hampton Roads, ticks love to bite spring, summer and fall. They’ll keep biting in the winter, too, if the temperatures are above freezing.

While there are several tick-borne diseases in Virginia, the two most common are Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Black-legged ticks – formerly known as “deer ticks” – are carriers for Lyme disease. However, if you get a tick bite in Virginia, it’s most likely to be from a lone star tick, which transmits ehrlichiosis.

Fortunately, both illnesses can be treated if you see your health provider early. Of course, the best way to avoid tick bites is to prevent them from happening in the first place.

“Don’t delay treatment if you have any symptoms,” says Jennifer Brooke Fortune, a physician assistant for Bon Secours Patient Choice Oceana. “It can cause long-term problems.”

To help prevent tick-borne diseases, follow these tips courtesy of Fortune and state and federal health authorities.

Use repellent.

Ticks hang out on the ground, crawling up shoes and socks to find a place to bite. Use a repellent that contains 20 percent of more DEET, picaridin or IR3535 on exposed skin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Follow the directions to use DEET safely, especially when applying it to children.

Take a shower.

Just thinking you might have a tick is often enough incentive to hit the shower. Parents should check children under their arms, in and around their ears, inside their belly button, behind their knees, between the legs, around the waist and in their hair.

“If you take a shower within two hours, it’s easy to get any ticks off your body,” Fortune suggests. “They haven’t had time to latch on to your skin.”

Remove any ticks promptly.

The quicker you remove a tick, the better. It can take several hours or several days before ticks start transmitting disease.

Use tweezers to pull a tick straight out from the skin. You want to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull the tick upward until it releases from the skin. It can take up to a minute. Once you remove the tick, kill it by submerging it in rubbing alcohol. You don’t need to save the tick.

“Always clean the skin where you removed the tick,” Fortune says. “You can use a topical antiseptic.”

Make sure you get the entire tick out. If you’re not sure, have a doctor check the bite.

Watch for rash.

Both Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis can cause rashes. In Lyme disease, the rash is at least two inches in diameter. As the rash gets bigger, it looks like a “bull’s eye.”

“If you have a rash, go to the doctor,” Fortune said. “Especially if you have a rash and you know you’ve been bitten by a tick.”

Seek treatment early.

If you’re worried about a tick bite or you have symptoms of Lyme disease or ehrlichiosis, consult your health provider. Both diseases can be treated with antibiotics. Some people may never get a rash or know they were bitten by a tick. Lyme disease symptoms include headache, fever, muscle and joint aches, swollen glands and feeling tired. Ehrlichiosis symptoms include headache, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting and mental confusion.

Keep your pets tick-free.

Ask your veterinarian for advice on keeping your pets safe from ticks. If your dog or cat goes outside, they can bring ticks inside your home.