Dont let ticks keep you indoors: How to prevent and treat tick bites
Spending time in nature is great. The fresh air, beautiful scenery, and chirping birds are enough to make any day better. Whenever we’re spending time outside, particularly in wooded areas, we can’t forget about the tiny hazards known as ticks.
There are more than 800 species of ticks throughout the world, but only two families of ticks, Ixodidae (hard ticks) and Argasidae (soft ticks), are known to transmit diseases or illnesses to humans. They range in size from as small as one millimeter to as large as a pencil eraser. Ticks can range in color from shades of brown to reddish brown and black, depending on the type.
The threat ticks pose to humans
Ticks are small, blood-sucking arachnids, which is the same family as spiders. Unlike most other bugs that bite, ticks typically remain attached to your body after they bite you. As they consume more blood, they grow up to the size of a marble. After a period of up to 10 days of drawing blood from your body, an engorged tick can detach itself, fall off, and move on to a new host.
Ticks may be infected with bacteria, parasites, and viruses that can cause severe illnesses like Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, or Rocky Mountain spotted fever. A rare disease called Powassan is also known to be spread by ticks and is on the rise.
Symptoms of tick-borne diseases
Many people who live in tick-infested areas are aware of the classic bull’s-eye rash associated with Lyme disease. However, a rash is only one symptom, and all of these diseases can be serious and life-threatening. Symptoms usually occur within days or weeks of the bite.
- Red spot or rash near the bite site
- Full body rash
- Neck stiffness
- Muscle or joint pain or achiness
Seek medical care if you experience any of these symptoms following a tick bite.
Preventing tick bites
People working or spending a lot of time outdoors should be conscious of the threat ticks present in spring, summer, and fall, when ticks are most active. You are at risk of exposure to ticks that live in areas with grass, trees, shrubs, or leaf piles.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends following a number of tips to help prevent tick bites:
- Wear light-colored clothing, including a hat, long pants tucked into boots, and a long-sleeved shirt when working outside.
- Apply insect repellent that contains 20-30 percent DEET on any exposed skin, and reapply if you're swimming or perspiring heavily.
- consider using Permethrin-a repellent that kills ticks on contact - on work clothes. However, be aware that Permethrin can be used only on clothing, not on skin.
- Thoroughly check clothing and skin every day for ticks.
- Wash and dry work clothes, which will kill any ticks present.
If you find a tick on your body
Ticks prefer warm, moist areas of the body. Once a tick gets on your body, they’re likely to migrate to your armpits, groin, or hair. When they’re in a desirable spot, they bite into your skin and begin drawing blood.
If you find a tick on your body, remove it right away. Grasp it firmly and as close to your body as possible with a fine-tipped tweezers. Pull the tick away in a steady motion, and clean the area with soap and water.
It typically takes more than 24 hours of feeding for a tick carrying disease to infect a person, so the sooner a tick can be identified and removed, the better.
After removing the tick, submerge it in rubbing alcohol and place it in a sealed container. See your doctor as soon as possible to find out if any treatment is necessary based on the type of tick that bit you. While it’s not an emergency, it is important to seek medical care shortly after a tick bite. Your provider can talk about your risks, symptoms, complications to monitor, and proper follow up to ensure your health.
To learn more about the threat of ticks, visit CDC.gov.