What to do if you are bitten by a tick
While tick bites usually don’t lead to illness, every exposure carries the possibility of infection. Nathaniel Mann, MD, emergency medicine physician, offered some advice on how to prevent tick bites, what to do if you are bitten by a tick, and more.
Where are ticks found in South Carolina?
“Ticks are most often found in wooded areas,” said Dr. Mann. “Not just forests, but anywhere with some shade and high brush or grasses really becomes an environment ticks can thrive in.”
That doesn’t mean you’re safe as long as you don’t go for a hike, however. Ticks are most active during the warmer months of the year, when people are more often outdoors. So, if you have high brush or grasses in your yard, you may pick up a tick from there, or find them on your pet even if they never leave your fenced-in yard.
How can you protect yourself from ticks?
“At home, keeping the grass in your yard cut can help reduce your chance of being bitten by a tick,” said Dr. Mann. “Also, when you, your pets or your children come in from outside, check clothing, fur, and skin to see if any are trying to hitch a ride inside along with you.”
Tick checks should be thorough – ticks can hide in areas like the groin, armpits, or behind the knees. They’re small enough to potentially be mistaken for dirt as well, so make sure to take your time and don’t rush the tick check. If you find any, remove them as soon as possible.
When out in longer grasses, be sure to wear long pants, socks, and solid hiking boots or high-quality shoes. These barriers make it much more difficult for ticks to find any skin to bite, and if you wear lighter-colored clothing you’ll be more likely to see any crawling on you.
“You can also treat your outdoor clothing with a product that contains permethrin, an insecticide that can help kill any ticks or other insects that land on your clothing. Check any insect repellents you use to see if they work for ticks, as some do and some don’t,” said Mann.
What is the safest way to remove a tick and treat a tick bite?
“Whatever you do, don’t try to use things like nail polish, a match, petroleum jelly or any other ‘home remedies’ for getting a tick off the skin,” said Dr. Mann. “These methods can actually cause the tick to regurgitate material back into the site of the bite, making infection more likely.”
Instead, use tweezers to grasp the tick firmly as close to your skin as you possibly can. Pull steadily and smoothly until the tick is removed. Don’t try to jerk your hand back too quickly or you could leave the tick’s mouthparts stuck in your skin.
Don’t try to ‘crush’ the tick between your fingertips. To dispose of a tick safely, you can flush it down the toilet, soak it in alcohol, wrap it in tape, or place it into a plastic baggie.
Write down the date of the bite, where you were bitten, and what location you were in when the exposure occurred for future reference.
Can a tick bite make you sick?
“Ticks contain different types of bacteria or viruses in their saliva,” said Dr. Mann, “so they can pass on a variety of diseases through their bites. Which illness you might pick up tends to vary based on geography.”
Illnesses associated with tick bites are uncommon, but in some circumstances, significant illness can occur and become life-threatening. The most common diseases associated with tick bites in the Southeast include rocky mountain spotted fever (and other related illnesses), ehrlichiosis, southern tick associated rash illness and, occasionally, Lyme disease.
Do you need to see a doctor if you were bitten by a tick?
“Most tick bites don’t result in passing on infections,” said Dr. Mann. “The sooner the tick is safely removed, the less likely you’ll be to have any kind of illness as a result.”
In most cases, keeping an eye on the tick bite is all that you’ll need to do. However, if you develop nausea or vomiting, have a fever or chills, feel unexplained fatigue or body aches, or have a rash, seek professional medical advice. With the date of the bite and its location written down, you’ll be more prepared to explain your concerns to your doctor.
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