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DPH: Check for Ticks After Outdoor Activities

Wear light-colored long sleeves, pants and socks so it’s easier to spot ticks; tuck your pants in your socks and other lessons on Lyme disease and tick bite prevention from Lexington's Department of Public Health.

The following was provided by the Lexington Board of Health.

Whether it’s hiking in the woods or just working in your yard, outdoor activities put you at risk for contracting Lyme disease.

Lexington’s Office of Community Development, Health Division and the Board of Health want to educate local residents of the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease, and what you can do to prevent it. Annual confirmed cases of Lyme disease in Lexington average in the low teens and have remained constant over the last few years.

Lyme disease is a potentially debilitating bacterial infection spread through the bite of an infected deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). Most humans are infected through the bite of immature deer ticks called nymphs.

Deer ticks wait in the tall grass or bushes for a mammal to pass by so that they may hitch a ride and, at the same time, have a nourishing blood meal. While extracting blood from the human host, a bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) from the tick’s internal systems is transferred. Both nymph (baby) and adult deer ticks can spread the disease, and often go unnoticed because of their small size (no larger than a sesame seed).

First recognized in the mid 1970, Lyme disease was named after an unusual outbreak of arthritis near the town of Lyme, Conn. The disease has become well established in this region mostly due to the number of deer populations.

Warning signs of Lyme disease often include a rash that resembles a “bulls eye,” aches and pains in your muscles and joints, headache, fatigue, fever and chills. Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics but the quicker it is recognized the better the prognosis.

Deer ticks can attach to any part of the human body but are often found in hard to see areas such as the groin, armpits, and scalp.  In most cases, the deer tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted.

If you can see any part of the deer tick remaining under your skin, call your doctor. Keep in mind that dogs are also susceptible to Lyme disease and if you have any questions or notice any change in your dog’s behavior, it is best to contact your veterinarian. 

A Few Frequently Asked Questions about Ticks

What should I do if I find a tick on myself or a friend?
The longer a tick remains attached to someone, the greater the chance it will be able to spread a disease-causing germ. Therefore, any attached tick should be removed as soon as possible.   Using needle-nose, or pointed tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible.  Slowly pull the tick away (this takes patience and often takes several minutes – pull slowly to allow the tick to release from the skin). Once you have the deer tick, it may be placed in a jar filled with a few ounces of rubbing alcohol which will both kill the tick and preserve it for future testing by your doctor, if necessary. To avoid spreading the bacterium, don’t squash the tick with your bare hands.

Should I be treated after removing an attached tick?
Although not routinely recommended, taking antibiotics after a tick bite may be beneficial for some persons. If you answer “yes” to the following questions, discuss the possibilities with your health care provider:

a.) Can the tick be identified as a deer tick? Review the MDPH Tick Identification Card to see what ticks look like.

b.) Was the tick attached for at least one full day?

c.) Has it been less than three days since you removed the tick?

Your health care provider must determine whether the advantages of prescribing antibiotics after a tick bite outweigh the disadvantages.

After I remove an attached tick, what symptoms should I look for?
Whenever someone removes an attached tick from their body, they should watch for the appearance of any type of rash, fever or flu-like symptoms. Immediately seek the advice of a health care provider should any symptoms occur, especially if the tick was attached for more than 24 hours.

How can I prevent diseases spread by ticks?
Ticks generally cling to plants near the ground in brushy, wooded, or grassy places. The edges of woodlands and leaf litter are high risk areas. The ticks, which cannot jump or fly, climb onto animals and people who brush against the plants.

If you cannot avoid areas likely to have ticks, the most important thing you can do to reduce your chances of getting sick is to check your entire body for ticks after returning indoors and to remove any attached tick as soon as possible. Pay particular attention to areas between the toes, back of the knees, groin, armpits, neck, along the hairline, and behind the ears. Review the MDPH Tick Identification Card to see what ticks look like.

Apply repellents that contain DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) or permethrin before you go outside to reduce the risk of tick bites. DEET is safe and effective in repelling ticks when used according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Choose a product that will provide sufficient protection for the amount of time you plan to spend outdoors. Product labels often indicate the length of time that someone can expect protection from a product. Repellents should not be used on children less than two months of age.

Permethrin-containing products kill ticks, but are not designed to be applied to the skin. Clothing should be treated and allowed to dry in a well-ventilated area prior to wearing.  Because permethrin binds very tightly to fabrics, once the fabric is dry, very little of the permethrin gets onto the skin. 

You can reduce the number of ticks around your home by keeping your grass cut short and clearing brush. For more tips on preventing tick bites and reducing the number of ticks around your home, review the MDPH brochure Preventing Disease Spread By Ticks.

For more information or to receive a free “tick identification card” please contact the Office of Community Development, Health Division, Gerard Cody, Health Director at 781-862-0500 x 237. You may also visit http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/lyme/index.htm or http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/dph/cdc/factsheets/lyme.pdf.

Richard Pollack March 21, 2012 at 10:56 PM
All very good advice. Finding and promptly removing ticks (from a person or pet) can dramatically reduce risk of infection. Once the tick has been removed, have it identified. Only certain kinds of ticks can transmit the agents of Lyme disease, babesiosis and anaplasmosis. Other ticks may transmit other infections. The longer the tick is attached, the greater the risk of infection. Physical samples can be sent, or digital images uploaded, for a rapid, confidential, independent and expert evaluation. For more educational information and help with identification, visit https://identify.us.com. Richard Pollack, PhD (IdentifyUS LLC)
Tina March 23, 2012 at 04:17 PM
I think its impossible to really do a thorough tick check. Those things are tiny, and god forbid you have any hair on your body or head; you'll never find them once they get under cover. Do whatever you can to avoid coming in contact with one of these tiny pests. I was at a garden show last month and bought something called Tick Tubes, which I am getting ready to start using in my garden. I have heard about them anecdotally but want to try them for myself, as I hate to spray. They target the mice which are the source of the disease. Mice retrieve the permethrin-treated cotton from the tubes and line their nests with it, getting rid of all the ticks they carry before they get up the food chain to bite humans. Pretty cool, huh?
Erik Walter April 10, 2012 at 01:22 PM
The company I work for recently developed a product that you can use to test the tick for Lyme disease. It’s simple to use, and can give you results within 10 minutes. If you research online, you will see the best treatment is early detection. The sooner you identify and treat the threat, the better you increase your chances of minimizing the effects of this disease. This product is something every pet owner should have. For those of you interested, please visit our website for more details http://www.affiniton.com Thanks, and the best of luck to those of you who have pets that have been infected!

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