Ticks: No Friend of Mine

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When I was a kid, a tick was just a disgusting thing you had to occasionally pull off the dog. I vividly remember my dad deciding I was old enough to start doing it myself instead of running to him and telling him, “Dad, there’s a tick on the dog.” I didn’t want to touch it. It was huge and engorged, and just creepy as could be. I don’t remember his exact words, but I do remember he made it clear my participation in this activity was not optional. I think I was about 8 years old.

Ticks didn’t frighten us back then; they just annoyed us. Today you mention a tick and people freak out. In New England, there are seven known illnesses carried by ticks (deer ticks, primarily, but also dog ticks). Some of these are considered rare in the northeast, but many of them are common, particularly Lyme disease.

Two weeks ago I felt something uncomfortable on a part of my body that I’ll just call my underarm (although it was really closer to my ribs). As I watched television, I started scratching at the uncomfortable area, and thought, “Oh darn, another one of those old lady skin tags has formed.” I felt a small lump that moved when I ran my finger over it.

Seeking to confirm it was in fact a pesky skin tag, I went to the bathroom to check in the mirror. Imagine my shock when I saw a blood red circle about the size of a lima bean, with a disgusting squiggly tick in the center.

I’m not going to lie. My first reaction was super “girly.” I screamed and ran around for a moment, horrified. Then I did what I always do — reminded myself I had no one to help me, so I better just pull myself together and deal with it. I’ve been removing ticks from dogs since approximately 1969, so I know how to do it. Turns out it is a lot harder to pull a tick out of yourself than it is to pull one off a dog. After trying, and failing, to “grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and pull straight back” with my fingers, I located my tweezers and got the little bugger on the first try.

Identifying what kind of tick you’ve been bitten by is more important than it used to be. I took a pretty good look at it before I flung it in the toilet and sent it off to a watery death. Then I got out my trusty Betadine, cleaned the area well, and took a number of deep breaths.

I got a lot of advice from friends on what to do, but I prefer to get my own information. I started to research how concerned I really needed to be about disease. I used readily available medical sources (like the Mayo Clinic) and information. Here’s what I learned:

People urged me to “send the tick in for testing.” Have you noticed no one ever tells you where, or why? Yes, you can save a tick and have it tested. But you will have to send it to a lab and pay for it yourself. Your doctor will not test the tick. And even if the tick is infected, it doesn’t mean you will be. So I saw no point in that.

Everyone said, “Go to the doctor and get antibiotics.” It turns out that if you know you’ve been bitten by a deer tick and you know it has been latched on to you for 24 hours or more, you might benefit from one 200 mg dose of Doxycycline. Or you might not. Because not every tick is infected. And not every person exposed to an infected tick gets sick. And not every infection responds to Doxycycline. With my $2,000 deductible health plan, I didn’t really fancy spending $165 to go to my primary care physician and ask for a medication that might or might not be necessary at all.

I don’t know how long the tick was latched on. I’m not 100 percent sure it was a deer tick. And truthfully? Since I know I was bitten by a tick, I can wait and watch for symptoms, and head to the doctor if I have any. I can then have my own blood tested, and if I test positive for exposure to one of the tick-borne illnesses, get treatment then. Lyme disease is actually fairly easily cured if you seek treatment right away.

So now I wait. I’m not overly worried, but I am a little concerned. The place where the tick bit me is just a small red mark now. So far there is no sign of a bullseye rash (which may or may not be at the site of the bite), or anything else.

Here are some suggestions for keeping yourself safe from ticks:

* Use a repellent with DEET (the chemical N-N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) or permethrin according to the instructions given on the product label. DEET products should not be used on infants under 2 months of age and should be used in concentrations of 30 percent or less on older children. Permethrin products are intended for use on items such as clothing, shoes, bed nets and camping gear, and should not be applied to skin.

* Wear long, light-colored pants tucked into your socks or boots, and a long-sleeved shirt. This may be difficult to do when the weather is hot, but it will help keep ticks away from your skin and help you spot a tick on your clothing faster.

* Stay on cleared trails when walking or hiking, avoiding the edge habitat where ticks are likely to be.

* Talk to your veterinarian about tick control options (tick collars, repellents) for your pets.

* After spending time in an area likely to have ticks, check yourself, your children and pets for ticks.

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avatar Posted by on Jun 16 2017. Filed under Featured Content, Opinion. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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