You have probably heard of Lyme disease before, but there is a lot of misinformation floating around. One of the first things you need to know is that Lyme disease is every bit as scary as you may have heard that it is and as such, should not be taken lightly.
While Lyme disease is generally not life threatening, the long term effects from having Lyme disease can be quite unpleasant. It is important to take measures to protect yourself and your family against Lyme disease.
What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is an infection that is caused by the bacterium Borellia burgdorfi, which is transmitted by deer ticks. When the deer tick bites your skin, it’s not like a mosquito bite. Deer ticks actually burrow into the skin, feed on your blood, fill up, and then drop off. The tick’s mouth will be under your skin and not visible, but the body of the tick is fully visible. As they fill up with blood, they turn from a brownish color to a blue-gray color and become enlarged. At this stage, they are referred to as an engorged tick. If a tick has been on you long enough to get engorged (more than 24 hours) the risk of getting Lyme disease is quite high.
What If I Find A Tick On Me?
The first thing you should do if you find a tick attached to you is try to determine what type of tick it is and how long it’s been there. Do not panic, but also don’t waste time removing the tick properly either. If the tick has been on you for more than 24-36 hours, please call your doctor immediately. They will usually prescribe an antibiotic that can help prevent Lyme disease in the event that the tick that bit you was indeed carrying it. If the tick has been attached to you for less than 36 hours, the chance of contracting Lyme disease is low, but still a risk.
How Do I Remove An Attached Tick?
If you find a tick attached to you, don’t just rip it off with your fingers. If you do this, you can break the tick’s head off and leave it embedded in your skin. Once you do this, it is extremely difficult to get the tick’s head out of your skin and requires a bit of patience and usually the help of another person, depending on where the tick bit you.
In my personal experience, the safest and most effective way to remove a tick is with a Tick Twister. This little plastic device makes removing ticks easy and painless. The Tick Twister works by unscrewing the head of the tick from the skin, without the risk of squeezing the tick’s abdomen which reduces the chance of the tick transferring the Lyme disease into your skin. We have several of these nifty devices in our Emergency Kit at all times and I can attest to the fact that this Tick Twister is extremely effective.
If you don’t have access to a Tick Twister, carefully remove the tick with tweezers, not your fingers! Be extremely careful not to squeeze the tick’s body as that may force the infective bodily fluids through its mouth and into the site where it is attached. A tick’s mouth pieces that embed into the skin have backward facing barbs (like a harpoon) that allows the tick to stay firmly attached while feeding. Attempting to simply pull the tick straight out can be unsuccessful and leave the tick in two pieces. If this happens, try to remove the mouth parts as best as you can with clean tweezers.
Once the tick has been removed, carefully dispose of it by submersing it in alcohol, wrapping it tightly in tape, flushing it down the toilet or placing it in a sealed ziplock baggy. You can choose to send the tick’s body in for testing at www.tickreport.com to have the tick indentified and tested for Lyme disease.
Be sure to clean the area where the tick attached with rubbing alcohol, iodine, or antibacterial soap and water. Apply a triple antibiotic ointment to the area to help prevent infection at the wound site.
What Are The Symptoms of Lyme Disease?
If, for some reason, you don’t find a tick attached to you but experience symptoms like fatigue, fever, chills, muscle and joint aches, headaches or an unexplained rash, you should call your doctor immediately. These are signs of an early infection of Lyme disease and if you catch it early, it can be treated. Some, but not all, people who have been bitten by a tick carrying Lyme disease will experience a small rash that expands to look like a bullseye around the location where the tick bit you. This is one of the biggest indicators of Lyme disease.
Steps To Help Prevent Lyme Disease
One of the first steps to help prevent Lyme disease in the first place is avoiding ticks! Sometimes that is easier said than done, especially if you live in New Hampshire. According to Antonia Altomare, DO, MPH, hospital epidemiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (D-H), nearly 60% of all deer ticks in the state of NH are infected with Lyme disease which is why it has one of the highest rates of people being infected with Lyme disease in the US.
My family and I live in New Hampshire so we have made a habit of taking as many preventative measures as possible when it comes to ticks.
- Wear long sleeves and long pants when going outside or
- Wear clothing that has been treated with permethrin (like Insect Shield)
- Use a tick or insect repellant containing DEET, especially on shoes and pants
- Avoid woods and overgrown areas with tall grass
- Do thorough tick checks at the end of every day if you’ve been outside
- Shower after being outside to wash away any ticks that have not yet attached
Lyme disease is no joke. Make sure you take steps to help protect you and your family from ticks so you can avoid Lyme disease.
For more information about Lyme disease, visit the Dartmouth-Hitchcock website