Tick Bites and Lyme Disease

It’s summertime!  Time to play outside, hike and swim and sail and kayak and camp and do all the fun things you love to do outdoors.

Say you and your family travel to Michigan to go camping and kayaking.  You’ve spent the day playing in a beautiful meadow with your kids and as you’re changing your 3-year-old into her pajamas you find this in her armpit:

Credit: www.co.ontario.ny.us

Credit: www.co.ontario.ny.us

What do you do?  (Aside from panicking and calling the doctor, LOL.)

This is an Ixodes tick, commonly called a deer tick.  It is this species that transmits Lyme disease.  Luckily this particular tick has NOT fed from your toddler, so she is safe from Lyme disease.

What if it HAD fed and completed a blood meal?  Well, then it would look like this, with a swollen, grayish-blue abdomen:

Credit: www.pbase.com

Credit: www.pbase.com

In this case, your child would need to see the doctor to be treated with antibiotics to prevent Lyme disease.  Luckily Lyme is preventable if treated early.

What if you hadn’t noticed your child had a tick, if it had fed and dropped off?  Lyme disease begins with a bullseye rash that can be easy to recognize.

Credit: www.webmd.com

Credit: www.webmd.com

Sometimes it doesn’t look exactly like this, so if you’ve been out in the woods and see a rash, it’s reasonable to see the doctor to be checked out.  Here are some other examples of how it might look.

Credit: www.bayarealyme.org

Credit: www.bayarealyme.org

Along with the rash (which happens 70-80% of the time), patients generally develop fever, chills, body aches and other flu-like symptoms.  This usually happens a few days to a few weeks after the tick bite.

If not treated, Lyme disease can go on to cause swollen, painful joints (especially large joints such as the knees), neurological problems such as headaches, heart problems, eye problems, and other less common symptoms.

Even though Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics, it’s much better to avoid tick bites and being infected in the first place.  If you’re going to be in the woods or in grassy areas near the woods (where ticks are likely to be found), wear long sleeves and long pants.  Tuck your pants into your socks and your shirt into your pants so ticks will have a hard time getting to your skin.

After you’ve been outside where you might have been exposed to ticks, check your clothes carefully to remove any ticks.  Wash those clothes to get rid of ticks you might have missed.  Check your body carefully, especially the scalp and any skin folds (ticks like places that are warm, moist and dark).  Check every member of the family thoroughly, including four-legged ones.  Shampoo your hair to dislodge any hitchhikers.

Since a tick must take its blood meal before it can transmit Lyme disease, you have time to find and remove it.  If a tick doesn’t come off easily, put olive oil or another cooking oil on it.  They have pores in their shells that allow them to breathe.  They will let go before they suffocate.

Cleveland itself is not considered a high-risk area for Lyme disease, but we’re not far from areas that ARE considered high-risk.  This is projected to be a bad year for deer ticks and Lyme disease.

Credit: www.cdc.gov

Credit: www.cdc.gov

If you’re traveling it’s good to know how to stay safe!

QUESTION: Have you ever found a tick on yourself or a family member?

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