I have posted before about being diligent about checking yourself and your kids for ticks after an outdoor adventure, but even doing so, I ended up with an encounter of my own recently. When I discovered that I had a deer tick embedded between my toes, I immediately…took photos. I bet you thought I was going to say “removed it” or “freaked out” but I decided right then and there that I needed to document my experience so that I could educate all the local nature lovers.
I did what everyone normally would do when I found it…I Googled. I was familiar with how to remove it, although it was easier said than done because my husband wasn’t home and I am not the most flexible person so getting close enough to my toes to see what I was doing was challenging. Since I was sure it was a deer tick (we will cover tick ID soon!) I wondered what the next steps were. Dr. Google was all over the place so I called my doctor’s on call line and left a message. In the meantime, I successfully removed the tick with its mouth parts intact and placed it in a baggie.
I actually ended up having a bit of an allergic reaction and experienced swelling and redness in the area of the bite for a few days. It was also intensely itchy! It is important to note that some of us may experience this type of reaction and it does NOT indicate that a disease was transmitted.
Since Google can’t be trusted (and I can be) here are the steps you should take if you find a tick, any tick, embedded:
1) Locate a pair of tweezers, preferably ones with a fine pointed tip. Using two fingers on your non-dominant hand, pull the skin taught around the bite location. With the tweezers in your dominant hand, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull it out with an upward motion. Do not twist.
2) Either dispose of the tick by flushing in down the toilet or save it for ID purposes if you think it may be a deer tick.
3) Disinfect the bite location and thoroughly wash your hands.
4) If it is a deer tick, call your doctor to see if they recommend preventative prophylactics. In states with very high rates of Lyme disease (like Delaware), this may be the option they prefer. Otherwise, just watch for the bulls-eye rash. Just because you don’t see a rash doesn’t mean you are not infected. Likewise, just because you were bitten by a deer tick doesn’t mean you ARE infected.
5) Send a photo of the tick to the tick encounter website. They can confirm your guess and tell you what to do next!
The “fun” part about Lyme disease is that symptoms are not immediate and you cannot test right away either. It can take weeks for the rash to appear and enough antibodies in your system to build up so that they can detect the disease. You have to just wait it out. Additionally, many symptoms of Lyme disease are very non-specific like fatigue, fever, headache, joint pain, etc. It can be easy to write those symptoms off if you are a busy parent who is always exhausted, or if your child can’t easily describe to you WHY they don’t feel well. The good news is that if caught early, Lyme disease is treatable. You just have to be diligent about checking for ticks and monitoring after removal.
BUT… those little buggers (pun intended) can be TINY! The size of a pinhead actually. It is entirely possible to not see them at all so it is good to know that Lyme disease is a distinct possibility in our area. If you start to feel off, or experience those symptoms, don’t ignore them. I picked up my tick in my own backyard actually which is kind of funny since we go on so many adventures in nature.
We’ve had our fair share of tick encounters this year, it seems as though they are out in full force. I was able to see them and remove them before they become embedded in all of the cases except my own. On top of that, the ticks that I have found on my kids were all lonestar ticks. What a relief, right? Not necessarily… They also transmit nasties, namely, rocky mountain spotted fever.
Now, on to tick identification. There are 3 species of concern in our area.
It will help if you can magnify them for identification purposes. I actually used my camera lens to do so, but you may be able to do it on your phone or with an actual magnifying glass.
All 3 species transmit erlichiosis. I only bring this to your attention if you are a dog owner. Flea and tick prevention on your animals is very important, but it isn’t 100% so you need to make sure you are checking animals regularly as well. During an annual exam, we discovered that our golden retriever had contracted erlichiosis and needed antibiotic treatment. At the time he was not exhibiting any symptoms, however if left untreated it could be very unpleasant for him. $80 worth of meds later and he’s fine.
I don’t want to scare you out of ever exploring again. Like I’ve said before, knowledge is power. With this knowledge you can protect your family and still have fun! It is nearly impossible to eliminate the possibility of having a tick encounter but there are ways you can reduce the chances.
1) Bug spray. I will be doing an entire post dedicated to kid-safe products soon, so stay tuned!
2) Long sleeves and pants tucked in to shoes.
3) Light colored clothing so they are easier to spot.
4) Stay out of tall grass.
- It takes 24-36 hours of attachment for a tick to transmit a disease.
- Ticks are NOT insects! They are arachnids.
- Lyme disease is named after the town in Connecticut where it was first discovered.
- Ticks can survive freezing temperatures.