Tick populations are related to the number of acorns produced. “Ecology research shows when acorns are plentiful, mouse populations explode in the following years, giving rise to more ticks,” says Dennis Kane, MD, a pediatrician practicing at Maryland-based Righttime Medical Care in Rockville and Gaithersburg, Md.
Ticks can carry bacteria and viruses that can lead to severe illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the number of reported Lyme disease cases in the United States — now 300,000 per year — has tripled since the late 1990s. The disease causes flu-like symptoms and most people can recover with antibiotics.
In addition, this year the rare tick-borne Powassan virus is starting to make an appearance, which also comes with flu-like symptoms, although no treatment is available.
“While we need to remember not every tick carries bacteria or viruses, more ticks means we’ll very likely see more related illnesses,” Dr. Kane says. “Everyone who spends time outdoors, even just playing in the backyard, should perform a daily check.”
To minimize tick-related illness:
- Follow trails and avoid places with thick vegetation.
- Carry a lint roller to pick up ticks before they crawl onto skin.
- Use insect repellent with 20 percent or more DEET, or with picaridin, oil of lemon, eucalyptus, or IR3535.
- Avoid repellents on infants younger than two months.
- Apply products that contain permethrin to clothing before going outdoors.
- Shower after coming indoors.
- Inspect the body, paying attention to armpits, groin and genital areas, and use a fine-toothed comb on hair.
- Check children daily.
- Treat pets with products that kill or repel ticks.
- Examine gear and pets since ticks can hitch rides.
- Wash clothes in hot water and dry on high heat for 10 minutes.
While prevention is key, the good news is that ticks don’t pass along bacteria and viruses immediately. “Ticks need to be on the body for an extended period, usually 18 to 24 hours, and look at least partially engorged,” explains Dr. Kane. “It’s unpleasant, but they regurgitate blood as they stay attached. The danger begins later because whatever they’re carrying has a chance to get into your bloodstream.”
If you find a tick, follow these steps:
1) Use a pair of pointed tweezers to grab close to the head.
2) Pull up firmly away from the skin.
3) Disinfect skin with rubbing alcohol and wash hands with soap and water.
4) Dispose of the tick by submersing in rubbing alcohol, placing in a sealed bag, wrapping in tape, or flushing down the toilet. Take a photo before disposing of it if you want to refer to the type of tick later.
5) If you can’t take it out, visit a health care provider for removal.
The CDC advises not to keep a tick after removal: If testing shows the tick had disease-causing organisms, you may not necessarily have been infected, but if you have been infected, you may develop symptoms before results are available.
Don’t do any of these when removing a tick as they can cause it to bury:
- Smother with petroleum jelly, nail polish, gasoline, rubbing alcohol, or essential oil.
- Burn it while stuck to the skin.
Watch for signs of infection in the days following removal, including fever, chills, headaches, and/or muscle aches. A bulls-eye rash can appear following a Lyme disease infection, but not always. Other disease may cause rashes that are not circular. If you suspect anything, see a health care provider as soon for possible.
About Righttime Medical Care
Righttime Medical Care simplifies access to trustworthy medical care at its 15 urgent care locations in Maryland. Caring for patients of all ages, Righttime is open 365 days a year and welcomes walk-in patients while offering same-day appointments Services include x-rays, laboratory testing, patient portal, and electronic health records which are shared with patients’ physicians, specialists and collaborating medical institutions. For more information, visit myRighttime.com.