Friday, May 31, 2013

Dealing with a tick bite/ prevention

The weather is warm, the families are out enjoying some hiking and unfortunately the ticks are out there biting.

Of the many varieties of ticks out there, the ones that can transmit diseases to us are the deer ticks.   

Although only a small percentage of tick bites are harmful, the diseases can have a major health impact, so we need to pay attention.

The key is prevention.

If you are going to be walking or hiking in densely wooded areas, light colored long sleeves and long pants are recommended. Spray the clothing with the bug repellent permethrin. (Okay for anyone over 2 months of age) 
Use Deet on exposed skin.

But let's face it, on a hot day we are not going to have our bodies covered completely, so here is the deal....
Everyone needs to get a naked head-to-toe body check after a walk in the woods. If you are camping, do a full body check daily.
Ticks can hide in out of the way places on your body. Don't forget to check the scalp. If you are dealing with thick darker hair, you can rub your fingertips along the scalp and feel for any bumps. Check in between the fingers and toes, check arm pits. You really want to be very thorough.
Many of the ticks are very tiny and hard to see. Be familiar with little moles and freckles so you can recognize a new spot which might be a little tick. 

If you are returning to your home after a hike, take all clothing and put everything in a hot dryer for 60 minutes to kill any wandering ticks.

It is very important to remove the tick as quickly as possible.
 If a tick is removed within 4 hours of the bite, the chances of any disease transmission are SIGNIFICANTLY decreased. For Lyme disease, the tick generally needs to be attached for more then 24 hours to be a concern.

If you do find a tick, the best way to remove it is with tweezers or a special tick removing tool. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as you can and firmly pull up and away. Do not twist. The Public Health department councils that you should not try any of the folk remedies such as Vaseline, burning match etc.
If you own a dog or go hiking frequently, do yourself a favor and get one of the tick removing tools. You can get them pretty cheaply from any sporting good or pet store. Amazon has a ton of different brands. I do not have a favorite.

Once the tick is out, clean the area with an antiseptic soap, apply a dab of Neosporin and then keep watch on the area to make sure there is no infection.

Okay, We got a tick bite. We removed it, but now what???  Of course it is easy to get a little freaked out.

*watch the site for sign of local infection

* observe for 30 days, If there is any odd rash, flu like illness, aches, or fever it is important to notify your doctor.
We will want to know the date of the bite, and if possible the region where the tick came from. Any recent travels are important data.

Unfortunately the blood tests for tick borne diseases such as Lyme are initially not all that helpful. To start off with, you can get both false positive and false negative results.(Making it pretty useless) 
It turns out that once you have symptoms several weeks after the bite, the tests are apt to be more accurate, but that isn't all that helpful right after the tick encounter when we are trying to decide whether or not to treat.

One option you have is to get the tick tested. 

The Sonoma County Health Department will identify the tick for free and test it for lyme disease for a very reasonable fee. (They don't test the ticks for other illnesses) They do the testing every Thursday and get you the report by Friday. They say that about 1-3% of the ticks test positive.

Read the instructions on their website for how to send the tick 

Essentially what I suggest is:
Regardless of whether or not you get the tick tested....
Watch the person who has been bitten very carefully for the next 4-5 weeks.
If there are any suspicious symptoms within the month following a tick bite you absolutely want to speak to your doctor about doing a course of antibiotics.

 Reactions that are a cause for concern would be a bull's eye rash around the tick bite site and/or any type of flu symptoms.
Not everyone gets all symptoms.

We don't want to treat every tick bit with antibiotics for obvious reasons.
As with everything, we need to strive for balance.
We can't keep our kids in a box.
Go out there and enjoy the hike, but then do that thorough body check and you should be fine.

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