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Health Tick: What to Do if You’ve Been Bitten

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

During summer, our families are spending a lot more time outdoors, which means we have a much higher chance of coming across dreaded ticks. Whether it’s from hiking in the local state parks or sitting under the tree reading a book- ticks are everywhere, and it’s important we know how to handle their bites.

More than a dozen tick-borne diseases exist in the United States. The most common one we hear of is Lyme disease, but others like Heartland virus, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and more exist. Lyme disease is caused by a spiral-shaped bacterium (spirochete)- often referred to a Borrelia burgdorferi. While Lyme disease itself is rapidly growing, most tick bites are able to be prevented and treated.

Ticks to Watch For:

Lyme disease is typically carried by black-legged Ixodes ticks that feed on various animal hosts. Highly infectious young nymphs prefer mice while the adults veer more towards deer. These ticks reside in wooded areas with tall grass, so it is especially important to watch out for them if you’re doing things like hiking or cleaning ditches that aren’t mowed.

How to Prevent Bites:

The first step to avoiding tick bites is to avoid wooded areas, but that is not always possible. Campers, hikers, and other outdoorsmen can lower their risk of a tick bite by walking in the middle of a path or trail and using insect repellant that has 20-30 percent DEET on all exposed skin and clothing. Make sure to tuck pants legs into your socks and wear long-sleeved shirts. It is also helpful to wear clothing that’s treated with 0.5 percent permethrin (another repellant), which is effective through several wash and dry cycles.

What About Fido?

Our pets are also highly susceptible to diseases from tick bites and they can carry ticks into the home. Discuss monthly flea and tick prevention with your veterinarian, and if you have a yard, it may be beneficial to treat is with acaricides. One spraying can be done in late spring to reduce the number of nymphs and the second spraying can occur in October to reduce adult ticks.

If You Find a Tick on Your Skin:

Not all ticks are capable of spreading Lyme disease, so don’t panic if you find one of these buggers on your skin. Ixodes nymphs are the size of a poppy seed and have black legs while the adults are much larger (normally 0.5 inches long). The good news is the bacterium that causes Lyme disease lives in the midgut of the tick, and it takes at least 36 hours for it to migrate to the salivary glands of the tick- so Lyme disease is rare unless the tick is attached to your skin for 36-48 hours. However, no matter how long the tick has been attached, you want to get it off. Using tweezers or small forceps, grasp the tick close to the skin and pull firmly with steady pressure—no squeezing or twisting, which can push more saliva into the wound. After removing the tick, disinfect the skin and wash your hands with soap and water. If it looks like part of the mouth is still in your skin, don’t worry as your body will expel them.

If You’ve Been Bitten:

If the tick has been attached for less than 36 hours, it is not cause for concern. But if it has been longer or you’re not sure, you still have a few options:

Antibiotic Therapy: in careful, prescribed, situations, a single dose of doxycycline may be prescribed by your provider. This antibiotic can significantly lower the chance of Lyme disease, but it only makes sense in certain instances like if the tick is a nymph or adult Ixodes tick; the tick has been attached for more than 36 hours and you’re taking the antibiotic within 72 hours; at least 20 percent of ticks in the area are infected with the bacterium (Minnesota included); and you don’t have any conditions that prevent you from taking the antibiotic.

Watch and Wait: Most commonly, people with tick bites take the watch and wait approach. For the next 30 days, keep and eye on the bite and watch for signs of rash or flu-like symptoms (fever, muscle aches, etc.). The typically Lyme disease rash is painless and expands slowly over several days to resemble a bull’s-eye. A simple, small red lesion at the site of a tick bite is normal and doesn’t necessarily mean you have Lyme disease. If you see signs of Lyme disease, it is important to see your healthcare provider for the necessary treatment. If you have any questions about Lyme disease or tick treatments, contact Murray County Medical Center at (507) 836-6111.

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