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Keeping Your Family Safe From Ticks

Posted by Patricia Burkwall, M.D. on May 4, 2016

keeping-your-family-safe-from-ticks-edit.jpgA powerful disease lurks within a small insect, and though the danger is real, a few easy precautions can allow you and your family to enjoy the outdoors safely.

Deer ticks can transmit the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne illness in the United States. It’s most prevalent between May and July. The first symptoms of the disease, which manifest within one to two weeks after the bite, include:

  • reddish rash, sometimes shaped like a bulls-eye

  • achiness and other flu-like symptoms

  • swollen lymph glands

  • headaches

Lyme disease can continue to worsen, especially if left untreated in the early stages. As it progresses it can lead to fatigue, joint pain and inflammation, heart problems, neurological symptoms such as dizziness, confusion, memory and concentration problems. Symptoms can start days or weeks after the initial infection and can last for years.

Preventing Lyme Disease Transmission 

Though Lyme disease is serious, knowing some important facts about its transmission can help keep you safe. Ticks don’t jump or fly — they wait in tall grass and shrubs, alighting on animals and people who brush against them. 

You can limit your exposure by avoiding grassy meadows and staying to the center of trails. Apply insect sprays with DEET, as directed, and treat your clothing with permethrin, both available over the counter. Wear light colors so you can spot ticks more easily. Consider using elastic or loose rubber bands around pants cuffs and shirt sleeves to block roaming insects.

Next, realize that ticks don’t latch on or tap into the host’s bloodstream immediately; they must typically be embedded for 36 hours or longer to transmit the disease. In fact, there is only a 1 in 100 chance of acquiring Lyme disease if a tick is removed before it becomes engorged. Armed with these facts, you can keep Lyme disease bacteria from ever entering your system.

Identifying Ticks After Outdoor Activities

Check yourself and your children from head to toe for unwanted hitchhikers after spending time outdoors. Small, nymphal stage ticks — about the size of a poppy seed — are among the worst transmitters, so search carefully. Consider bathing or showering soon after coming indoors to more easily find crawling ticks before they bite. 

Safely Removing a Tick

If you do find a tick, remove it immediately. If it’s latched on, use a pair of tweezers to grasp it firmly, close to the skin, and pull outward with a slow, even force in the opposite direction of how the tick is embedded. Wash with warm, soapy water and/or rubbing alcohol and apply antibiotic ointment to protect from further contamination or secondary infections.

These precautions are usually sufficient. But if you know or suspect that a deer tick was attached for at least 36 hours, or if you develop symptoms of Lyme disease, consult your physician right away. If indicated, antibiotics are often prescribed to combat the disease.

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Topics: Lifestyle & Wellness

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