The Prevention and Treatment of Tick Bites

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We are continuing our series this week on things that make us itch   by discussing tick bites. In my last post, "It is Spring: What You Need to Know About Ticks" we learned how to identify the most dangerous types of ticks including those that transmit diseases such as Lyme Disease   or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. We also learned what to look for in terms of rash or other symptoms of tick borne illnesses. This time we will focus on how to prevent being bitten by ticks in the first place and also what to do if you are bitten by a tick.

Where do ticks live and when do they come out?

Ticks are normally inactive when the temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. So they like to come out when temperatures rise especially during the spring months. Ticks love moist, humid environments. You might find them hiding under leaf litter and in grassy wooded areas. Ticks attach themselves to a human or animal host near the ground level.

How do I prevent getting bitten by ticks?

  • If you are walking in the woods along trails, stick to walking in the center of the trail and not on the fringes where vegetation or grasses will be touching your feet, legs, or body.

  • Some people suggest tucking your pant legs into your socks to prevent ticks from crawling up into your pant legs. However, some ticks are so tiny that they can get into your shoes or through your socks. And many people will be resistant to wearing long pants in spring or summer.

  • Use an insect repellant with DEET on your skin or clothing. Most insect repellants containing DEET can protect you for several hours. Be safe and read the directions on your repellant. You always want to avoid getting any of the insect spray or cream near hands, eyes, and mouth.

  • There are some people who say to disregard the prevention tips listed above and purchase a product which contains permethrin. Doctor Thomas Mather is one such person. Doctor Mather is a professor of public health entomology and director of the Center for Vector Borne Disease and Tick Encounter Resource Center at the University of Rhode Island. In a Fox News story   Dr. Mather was quoted as saying:

"Most people don't want to cover themselves with bug spray, and bug repellent with DEET really doesn't work. It does a good job of keeping mosquitoes away. Not ticks, though. Just because it says it on the can, doesn't mean it works."

There is research to back up what Dr. Mather is saying. In fact our U.S. military has been using permethrin for army soldiers with reports that it is highly effective. In fact they cite a study to prove that permethrin is superior to DEET products in repelling ticks: "In a 1984 study, humans subjected to a mosquito-infested area who wore only a DEET-concentrated mosquito repellent, were bitten an average of 98.5 times over a nine-hour day. Those who wore DEET repellant on their skin and wore permethrin-treated clothing were bitten an average of 1.5 times over the same period."

There are some who worry about the safety of using permethrin, however. In case you wish to read about the potential risks here is the Environmental Protection Agency fact sheet about the use of permethrin.

Permethrin can be found in most sporting good stores. You spray it onto clothing, shoes, boots and camping gear 48 hours before clothing shoes, or boots are worn. It is said to last through several washings. It is not recommended that you spray permethryn directly onto your skin.

What do I do if I find a tick attached to my skin?

Part of the prevention of getting a tick borne illness or disease is to do a full body check after you have been outside in any wooded areas or even in your backyard where ground vegetation can attract ticks. Remember to check your clothing as well. Also make sure that your pets are free from ticks by using some sort of tick or flea control product as recommended by your veterinarian.

You can see what a tick looks like when it is attached to your skin with the image I have to go with this post. I remember the first time I found a tick on my body. I thought that it was a new mole. But then it moved and that is when I screamed. When you discover you have a tick, don't panic.

Here is what you can do if a tick is attached to your skin:

  • A shower or bath will not remove the tick. You will have to remove the tick manually.

  • Do not use petroleum jelly or try to burn the tick off with a match or lighter. These are wives tales that do not work.

  • Use fine tipped tweezers (not square tweezers) to pull the tick straight out of your skin. Do not twist, crush, or puncture the body of the tick. Make sure to extract the entire tick and do not leave mouth parts imbedded in the skin. Make sure to wash your hands and the site of the bite afterwards.

  • Some sources suggest that you should save the tick for identification purposes should you develop any tick borne illness symptoms. Place the tick into a plastic baggie and label it with the date and place into your freezer.

  • If the tick was attached to your skin for less than 24 hours it is unlikely that you will get Lyme Disease. If you develop symptoms, particularly a week to two weeks after your tick bite, such as a rash (especially one that resembles a bull's eye), fever, fatigue, headache, muscle aches or joint pain seek medical help promptly. Red itchy skin which occurs immediately after the bite or for several days after is probably an allergic reaction.

If you have any concerns about a tick bite it is always best to consult with your doctor who can then diagnose any possible tick borne illnesses and prescribe the right treatment for you.


American Lyme Disease Foundation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Tick Encounter Resource Center