What you need to know about ticks, from preventing bites to treating them

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Warmer weather means more pesky insects to avoid, including ticks. Tick ​​bites have increased over the past few years – and there are a number of factors that are likely to contribute.

“Ticks thrive best in warmer conditions, so rising temperatures can lead to higher numbers of ticks and tick bites in both summer and winter,” said Matthew Aardema, assistant professor of biology at the Montclair State University.

Growing deer populations in certain parts of the country, ticks are also likely to have resulted in higher numbers. And a greater proportion of people who spend time outdoors engaging in activities like hiking or gardening, which have become popular stressors in the pandemic era, are also contributing to the increase in tick bites.

An increase in tick encounters can cause things like Lyme disease, which is also on the rise. In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 47,743 cases of tick-borne disease. In 2019 the number rose to 50,865.

David Claborn, Director of the Master of Public Health Program at Missouri State University said experts have seen even more tick-borne diseases in recent years that were likely misdiagnosed in the past.

“For example, in the southwest region of Missouri, two viral diseases have been identified in the past 15 years: the heartland virus and the bourbon virus,” he said. “These are not necessarily new viruses; we just know what to look for now and have sophisticated tools to identify them. “

So how should you avoid tick bites and what should you know about ticks in general? Here is a guide.

Where can ticks usually be found?

“Ticks can be found almost everywhere, except in the high mountains; However, they are most likely in areas with thick bushes and tall grass, ”said Claborn.

They are particularly common in ecotones, which are transition areas from one predominant vegetation to another, he added. For example, the ecotones between heavily forested areas and open meadows are particularly top areas.

How can you tell if there are ticks near you?

“If you aren’t already experiencing it firsthand by seeing them on your pets, family, or yourself, there are a few resources,” said Jean Tsao, a Associate Professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University.

She leads people to CDCs “Regions Where Ticks Live” Website for a breakdown of the different types of ticks and where they are most common.

If you live in a state with active tick surveillance, your state health department’s website may also have more detailed information, ”Tsao added. And this CDC page has maps for certain types of ticks and the risks of exposure to ticks infected with the Lyme disease bacteria.

Tick ​​encounter also provides information about ticks and has one Tick ​​Finder Card where people can submit photos of ticks in their area and share which varieties might be active in their geographic area at any given time.

“Experts identify the photos and put the information together so that it is reliable,” said Tsao.

You can prevent ticks from getting caught by wearing suitable clothing outdoors and examining your animals after they have been outdoors.

How do you prevent tick bites?

There are a few methods that you should practice. At first, Aardema suggested wearing pants and socks that cover the ankles and lower legs when hiking outdoors.

“If possible, the legs of the pants can be tucked into the socks to prevent ticks from getting on the skin,” he explains. “However, this can mean that ticks are trying to crawl higher on the body.”

Opt for lighter colored clothing that will make it easier to see ticks before they start to bite. And don’t forget your insect repellent.

Apply a bug spray that contains at least 25% DEET to your clothing, especially your shoes and pant legs, ”said Aardema, who found that non-DEET products have not been shown to be effective against tick bites.

“A tick that is looking for a place to bite is much easier to remove than a tick that has already started eating. So look for ticks often when hiking or when you are outdoors for a long time, ”added Aardema.

And after spending any Time outside in tick– You should examine your body thoroughly for ticks in prone areas. Aardema is said to do this even in winter when temperatures are above freezing.

It is important to examine all areas of your body including the scalp, behind the ears, under the arms, in the groin, belly button and behind the knees, added Jeannie Kenkare, chief medical officer. added PhysicalOne Urgent Care. “Showers if possible to remove ticks that haven’t caught on,” she said.

Your dog or cat can also have ticks from outside even if they are wearing a flea and tick collar. Rachel Rubin, Co-head of the Cook County’s Department of Public Health in Illinois, said he should run his fingers through your pet’s fur using gentle pressure to feel for any small bumps. Look in and around the ears, under the collar, between the legs, toes, and around the tail.

You can also do some maintenance in your yard to minimize the chance of tick encounters. Karen Reardon, VP of Public Affairs with RISEa national trade association dealing with specific pesticides and fertilizers – recommends removing leaves, scrub and weeds, and trimming shrubs and trees around your home and lawn.

“Use pesticides around your home and as a targeted barrier treatment,” she said. You can also hire a professional to treat your garden with an effective insect repellent, she added.

How do you recognize a tick bite?

A tick bite can go unnoticed if the tick is no longer attached and does not trigger an immunological reaction, for example if the area does not itch or cause a rash.

“Tick bites generally do not itch or cause rashes on their own, but if some people have been bitten by ticks in the past, their bodies may develop an immune response to the salivary proteins from a tick bite because the immune system has seen these proteins Before and created antibodies, ”said Tsao. “So the bite can itch and redden, just like a mosquito bite.”

If the tick transmits a pathogen such as the Lyme disease bacterium, it can become one circular rashalso described as a “bull’s-eye rash” that grows out of the tick bite. Tsao said that if one American dog tick or a Tick ​​on the Gulf Coast spreading typhus to you, you may have a different type of rash.

Experts recommend keeping your lower legs and ankles covered when in tick-prone areas.

Experts recommend keeping your lower legs and ankles covered when in tick-prone areas.

Should you remove a tick if it’s embedded in your skin?

Tsao said yes you should always remove a tick that bites you. “If the tick is infected, the longer it is attached, the greater the likelihood that it will pass the pathogen on to you,” she explains. And the sooner you remove the tick, the greater the chance you will prevent transmission.

To remove a tick, Tsao said using fine-tipped tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible. Then pull up on the tick with a steady, steady motion (without twisting or rapid movements).

“If small pieces of the tick break off and remain in the skin – remove them if they can be easily removed, but otherwise just leave them alone and the body will push them out over time,” she said. Try not to squeeze the tick’s body while grasping, as this could increase the chances of the tick infecting you.

And stay away from other DIY removal strategies. “We often hear of people using petroleum jelly or matches to kill the tick while it sticks to the skin. This is not effective and can of course cause much more damage to the skin, ”said Andrew S. Handel, Assistant Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

After removing the tick, Tsao said to wash the area with soap and water or alcohol. She suggested that the tick be saved so that the doctor can identify it in the event of illness in order to determine the course of diagnosis and treatment. This can be especially important as different types of ticks transmit different pathogens. Take clear photos of the tick and mail it on Check the app or Tick ​​potter so that experts identify the tick for you.

What to do after a tick bite

Once you’ve removed a tick, Kenkare says it’s important to watch out for symptoms for at least two weeks.

“The most common symptoms associated with tick bites are fever or chills, tiredness and aching limbs,” she said. A rash is also a sign that you should seek medical treatment.

The bite site can also become infected, so watch out for redness, swelling, or increasing pain. “If you develop any of these symptoms after a tick bite, you should seek medical help from your primary care provider or your local emergency care center immediately,” said Kenkare.

Although Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne infection, there are other diseases that can also be caused by tick bacteria. “These diseases often show symptoms similar to fever, fatigue, headache, nausea and vomiting, and all of them require medical attention,” Kenkare said.

But just because you were bitten doesn’t necessarily mean you are infected. “Tick bites are always an issue for me as an emergency doctor, but it’s important to remember that not all ticks transmit disease,” said Kenkare. “A doctor can thoroughly examine the bite, history, and environmental conditions to determine if further testing or treatment is needed.”


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