It's summer -- and the same weather that draws people and their pets outdoors also creates ideal conditions for the transmission of tick-borne illnesses, especially the most common: Lyme disease.
Time for Lyme, a Greenwich-based nonprofit group that raises funds for research on Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, addresses key questions and provides guidelines for people who believe they have been bitten by a tick.
Have I been bitten?
Lyme disease can only be transmitted from a bite by an infected deer tick, not from another person or animal, although pets commonly bring ticks into the home. All family members and pets should be inspected immediately and carefully after exposure to tick environments. You've been bitten if you find a tick attached to the skin; the longer it has been attached, the greater the risk of disease.
How should I
remove the tick?
The proper way to remove a tick is with a set of fine-point tweezers. Do not attempt to burn the tick or use your fingers or soap or any other substance on it, as these may irritate the tick and cause it to inject bodily fluids into the wound.
Using fine-point tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible, near the head of the tick. Pull backward gently but firmly, using an even, steady pressure. Do not jerk or twist. Do not squeeze, crush, or puncture the body of the tick, as this may cause transmission of infection-causing organisms.
If any mouth parts of the tick remain in the skin, leave them alone; they will be expelled naturally.
If the tick is found crawling, a good way to remove it is by using a piece of tape: adhere the tick to the tape and then suffocate it by sealing it into the tape; otherwise, you can dispose of it in alcohol and/or flush it down the toilet. After removing the tick, wash the skin and hands thoroughly with soap and water.
Should I have
the tick tested?
If the tick is attached, you will definitely want to send the tick to a laboratory to be tested for Lyme. You can ask your doctor where to send the tick or check online. But testing the tick cannot definitively confirm or rule out the presence of disease in the bitten person and generally cannot detect the presence of diseases other than Lyme, which can be contracted from the same tick bite. Some labs can test the tick for other co-infections in addition to Lyme disease. In any case, testing may take a week or more, during which time the disease can spread throughout your system with or without noticeable symptoms. The test will provide useful information for you and your doctor, but do not delay seeking medical treatment while waiting for the result. If you decide to send the tick for testing, place it, alive or dead, in a small plastic bottle or sealed plastic bag and package it suitably for shipping. If the tick is alive, place a moist cotton ball in the bag or bottle along with the tick.
What should I watch for after a tick bite?
The site of the bite should be monitored for expanding redness, which would suggest erythema migrans (EM), the characteristic rash of Lyme disease, which appears in less than half of cases. The EM rash is usually a reddish color, and typically expands over a few days or weeks. It often develops into a series of concentric rings giving it a "bull's-eye" appearance, but the rash can vary in size and shape.
The rash usually causes no symptoms, although burning and itching have been reported. In people with early localized Lyme disease, EM occurs within one month of the tick bite, typically within a week, although only one-third of people recall the bite that gave them Lyme disease. Note that not everyone who contracts Lyme disease develops a rash, and not all EM rashes are located at site of bite.
Other typical symptoms that may develop within a few days of being bitten include headache, stiff neck, swollen glands, fatigue, dizziness and migratory pains that come and go. In addition, it is important to keep a watch out for other tick-borne co-infections including babesia, typically presenting with night sweats and anaplasmosis (previously called ehrlichia), often presenting with fever and lower white blood count, as these can complicate treatment and recovery of Lyme disease.
When should I go
to the doctor?
You should see a medical professional if you have been in a tick environment and have any of the symptoms described above, even if you are unaware of having been bitten. The longer the tick attachment, the greater the chance of tick infection from an infected tick. Current blood tests for Lyme are unreliable, so the diagnosis is generally made based on the circumstances and clinical observation. Once diagnosed, early-stage Lyme may be easily and effectively treated with a course of antibiotics. Weigh all of these facts with your doctor while determining whether or not to treat after a tick bite.
For more information, call Time for Lyme at 203-969-1333 or visit www.timeforlyme.org.