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Tips for dealing with ticks

Tips for dealing with ticks
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Lyme disease research

Web extra: Guarding against tick bites

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, May / June 2010

What are ticks?

Ticks are small wingless bugs that feed on the blood of animals, birds, and people. They have eight legs and are related to spiders and mites. There are many different kinds of ticks. Black-legged ticks, or deer ticks, are usually tiny, no bigger than the head of a pin. Wood and dog ticks are usually much larger.

How do tick bites occur?

Ticks are found among plants and on animals in low-lying brush in woodlands, grasslands, and marshlands and at the seashore. Wild birds and animals, as well as domestic animals and pets such as dogs, horses, and cows, can carry ticks. Ticks may climb on humans from animals, leaf litter, or low-lying brush. Ticks cannot jump or fly.

How do I know if I have been bitten by a tick?

You usually will not feel anything when a tick bites you. If you find a tick attached to your skin, you have been bitten. You may have a little redness around the area of a bite.

Can I get sick from a tick bite?

There is little risk from the bite of a tick most of the time. However, some ticks carry infections that can be passed to people, such as Lyme disease.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted from infected black-legged ticks (sometimes called deer ticks) to humans. Lyme disease usually starts about two weeks after a tick bite with an expanding ring-like rash, which then fades. Many people also develop flu-like symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, fever, muscle aches or fatigue. If untreated, some people may continue to experience headaches and may develop dizziness, difficulty concentrating, stiff neck, and, in rare cases, an irregular heartbeat. Some people may also develop joint pain and swelling. Lyme disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics, and treatment is most successful in the early stages of infection. Individuals who think they may have Lyme disease should see their physician.

How are tick bites treated?

If you find a tick attached to your body, you need to remove it. You can remove it yourself or get help from your health-care provider. To remove an attached tick:

  • Grasp the tick with tweezers as close to the skin as possible.
  • Gently pull the tick straight away from you until it releases its hold. Pulling the tick out too quickly may tear the body from the mouth, leaving the mouth still in the skin. If this happens, you can try removing the embedded mouthparts with a sterile needle, in the way you would remove a splinter, or you can get help from your health-care provider.
  • Do not twist the tick as you pull, and try not to squeeze its body. Squeezing or crushing the tick could force infected fluids from the tick into the site of the bite.
  • After you have removed the tick, thoroughly wash your hands and the bite area with soap and water. Put an antiseptic such as rubbing alcohol on the area where you were bitten.
  • Save the tick in case you later start having symptoms of disease and need to know what kind of tick bit you. Put the tick in a clean, dry jar, small plastic bag, or other sealed container and keep it in the freezer. Identification of the tick may help your provider diagnose and treat your symptoms. If you do not have any symptoms of disease after one month, you can discard the tick.

How long will the effects last?

The usual reaction to a tick bite is nothing more than a bump on your skin that improves within a few days.

How can I take care of myself?

If you find a tick on your body, remove it right away. Infected ticks usually do not spread an infection until after the tick has been attached and feeding on your blood for several hours. Check for a rash and other symptoms for about four weeks after the bite.

Call your health-care provider if:

  • A tick has bitten you and you think the tick may be a deer tick.
  • You develop a bulls-eye rash or a rash with tiny purple or red spots.
  • The area of the bite becomes more swollen or painful or drains pus, or you see red streaks spreading from the wound.
  • You have flu-like symptoms after a bite such as fever, headache, muscle aches, joint pain or swelling, and a general feeling of illness.

How can I prevent tick bites?

Be aware of the areas where ticks live. Do not walk, camp, or hunt in the woods in tick-infested areas without precautions.

  • In areas of thick underbrush, try to stay near the centre of trails.
  • When you are outdoors, wear long-sleeved shirts tucked into your pants. Wear your pants tucked into your socks or boot tops if possible. A hat may help, too. Wearing light-coloured clothing may make it easier to spot a small tick before it reaches your skin and bites.
  • Use approved tick repellents on exposed skin and clothing. Do not use more than recommended in the repellent directions. Do not put repellent on open wounds or rashes. Wash the spray off your hands. Be careful with children because the repellents can make them ill.
  • Treat household pets for ticks and fleas. Check pets after they have been outdoors.
  • Brush off clothing and pets before entering the house.
  • After you have been outdoors, undress and check your body for ticks. They usually crawl around for several hours before biting. Check your clothes, too. Wash them right away to remove any ticks.
  • Shower and shampoo after your outing.
  • Inspect any gear you have carried outdoors.
  • If you spend much time hiking, you may want to include a pair of tick tweezers in your first-aid kit. The tweezers are available at many sporting goods stores.

Linda Coote is a registered nurse and manager with Health Links - Info Santé, the Winnipeg Health Region's telephone health information service.


About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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