Ticks can carry and transmit diseases such as Lyme disease. It’s important to be on alert whenever you, your children and even your pets spend time outside — especially in or near wooded areas.
When possible, wear long sleeved shirts and long pants. Tuck pants into socks to prevent ticks from climbing up the pant leg. Use an insect repellent that includes 30 percent DEET. These repellents last for six hours, so reapply if you are outside longer. Another protective measure is to treat clothing with permethrin. One permethrin application works on clothing for up to six weeks or six washings. It can also be used on sleeping bags and tents. Carefully follow the product’s directions when using permethrin.
There are two main types of ticks — wood and deer. Wood ticks are larger, about the size of a watermelon seed. Deer ticks are smaller, between the size of a poppy seed and an apple seed. Deer ticks can transmit Lyme disease, but only in about less than 2 percent of cases.
As soon as you come inside, do a tick check on everyone in the family. A tick has to stay attached for 24 hours before there is any chance of transmitting the organism that causes Lyme disease, so checking right away is important. A tick bite is painless. Ticks burrow into the skin and suck on a person’s blood. Be sure to check in and around ears, inside belly buttons, behind knees, between legs, in armpits and in hair.
If you find a tick, do not panic. Most tick bites are harmless, but you should remove it right away. If you find a wood tick, first try to remove it by soaking a cotton ball in liquid soap. Cover the tick with the cotton ball for 30 seconds. In most cases, the tick will be stuck to the cotton ball when you remove it. If that does not work, remove the tick with tweezers. Grasp it close to the skin and pull straight up without twisting or crushing it.
If you find a deer tick, the smaller kind, scrape it off with a fingernail or edge of a credit card. After removing a tick, wash the bite area and your hands with soap and water, then apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment to the bite site.
If you’re worried about potential tick-transmitted disease, you can place the tick in a plastic bag after you remove it. If any symptoms develop, you can bring the tick to your doctor’s appointment so that it can be properly identified.
After a tick has bitten someone, watch him or her for signs of illness over the following days and weeks. Look for fever, aches and pains, or a rash. If Lyme disease has been transmitted, the rash will typically appear within three to 30 days. A bullseye or circular rash around the bite site is an indication of Lyme disease. Be sure to see your doctor if a rash or any other symptoms develop.
Other tickborne illnesses have their own rash patterns. Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which can be transmitted by wood ticks, has rash that looks just like it sounds — small spots of rash in the affected area.
Don’t let the fear of ticks keep you from enjoying the outdoors. The risk of disease transmission is small. Take precautions before you go out, check for ticks when you come back in, watch for any symptoms after a bite and contact your healthcare provider if concerned. Most importantly, get outside and enjoy the summer!
Take the next step:
- Read about insect repellants and kids – Is DEET safe?
Heather Burrows, MD, PhD, is a pediatrician at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Dr. Burrows sees patients at our East Ann Arbor clinic. Learn more about University of Michigan pediatricians.
University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.