What to do if you’re bitten by a tick

PSA from Piedmont Walton

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Monroe, Ga. (July 27, 2018) – Lyme disease is a tick-borne disease, meaning it is spread to humans by tick bites. Blacklegged and deer ticks that are infected with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi can transmit Lyme disease through their bites, says Krishna Kunche, M.D., a primary care physician at Piedmont.

The early symptoms of Lyme disease (three to 30 days after a tick bite) include:

  • A bullseye-shaped skin rash (known as an erythema migrans rash)
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes

“See your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms after a tick bite,” says Dr. Kunche.

It’s important to seek treatment quickly because Lyme disease can cause serious side effects if left untreated, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Brain and spinal cord inflammation
  • Dizziness
  • Facial palsy (drooping on one or both sides of the face)
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle, bone, tendon and joint pain
  • Nerve pain
  • Pain or numbness in the hands and feet
  • Severe headache and neck stiffness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Short-term memory problems

Treatment options for Lyme disease

When caught early, Lyme disease can be cured completely with special antibiotics. “Several antibiotics — like Doxycycline, Amoxicillin and Cefuroxime — are available to treat Lyme disease,” explains Dr. Kunche. “They are usually given by mouth, but intravenous antibiotics are an option for more severe cases.”

He adds, “Sometimes, symptoms improve quickly with treatment. Other times, it can take weeks or months for symptoms to go away. Patients treated with antibiotics in early stages of the infection usually recover rapidly and completely.”

Lyme disease prevention

The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to prevent contact with ticks.

While spending time outdoors:

  • Stay on the center of the path when hiking.
  • Avoid areas that are very wooded or have tall grass.
  • Use a tick repellant product that contains at least 20 percent DEET, IR3535 or picaridin.
  • Treat your outdoor clothing and gear with a product containing permethrin.
  • Check your pets daily for ticks if they spend time outside.

When you get home from spending time in a tick-infested area:

  • Take a shower or bath as soon as you get home. Bathe your children immediately, too.
  • Do a full body scan for ticks using a handheld or full-length mirror. Check your children for ticks as well.
  • Check your pets and outdoor gear for any ticks that could be along for the ride.
  • Place your outdoor clothing in the dry on high heat for 10 minutes. This will kill ticks that may be attached to your clothing. If your clothes are soiled, wash them in hot water, then dry them.

How to safely remove a tick

If you do find a tick on your body, don’t panic — most tick bites don’t lead to Lyme disease, but it is important to remove the insect immediately.

“The tick must usually be attached for 36 to 48 hours before it can transmit Lyme disease,” explains Dr. Kunche. “See your doctor if you have a tick and you cannot remove it or think you have had a tick attached for at least 36 hours. This is especially important if you live in an area known for Lyme disease or have recently traveled to an area where Lyme disease occurs.”

Follow these steps recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • Grasp the tick as close to the surface of the skin as possible using needle-tipped tweezers.
  • Pull the tweezers upward in a steady motion. Avoid jerking or twisting the tick as this can cause its mouth-parts to break off and stay intact in your skin.
  • Thoroughly wash the site and your hands with soap and water, rubbing alcohol or iodine scrub.
  • Kill the tick by flushing it down the toilet, dousing it with rubbing alcohol or throwing it away in a sealed zip-top bag.
  • See your doctor if you have a fever or rash in the day or weeks following the tick bite.

To find a physician near you, visit piedmont.org.

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