Few of us spend much time thinking about ticks. But we probably should spend more because they’re a true threat, capable of spreading over a dozen different diseases.
And while it’s true that ticks thrive in forested areas it’s far from the only place they could be lurking. Ticks can be found in any damp, grassy, shady area including sand dunes, city parks, abandoned lots, backyards, campgrounds and hiking trails.
Knowing how to protect yourself against these ugly bugs, and what symptoms to look for in case you’re bitten, can help keep you safe.
An ounce of tick prevention
Although tick-spread illnesses can be very serious (we’ll have more on that shorty), there’s no need to panic. If you’re going to be spending some time outside during tick season—that’s anytime from summer through fall—these three steps can help keep you safe.
1. Check for ticks when you first come inside:
As soon as you come inside strip down to your birthday suit in front of a full-length mirror and look carefully for any ticks. Since ticks like damp, dark spots be sure to pay close attention to hair, ears, your bellybutton, groin area, and armpits.
But don’t ignore the rest of your body. Ticks don’t necessarily latch on immediately, so you may find them still loose on your arms, legs, chest or back. Check children and pets, as well.
It’s important to take this first step as soon as possible. The odds of catching a disease from a tick bite go up dramatically the longer the tick is latched onto you. On the other hand, the odds are good you won’t get sick if you manage to find and remove the little bloodsucker within the first 36 to 48 hours.
2. Don’t forget your clothing:
Make sure you haven’t brought any hitchhikers home with you on your clothing either.
Since you’ve stripped down anyway hoof it to the laundry room with your clothing. But instead of throwing your clothes into the washing machine put them directly into the dryer for 10 to 20 minutes, on high heat.
Ticks dry out and die if they’re exposed to high temperatures, so a round in the dryer before washing them should take care of the little buggers.
3. If you do find a tick, handle it properly:
If you find a tick that has embedded itself into your skin, ignore the old wives’ tales about removing it with things such as nail polish or matches. Many of these old techniques can do more harm than good, causing the tick to burrow deeper into your flesh rather than die or pull out.
Instead get a pair of tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin as you can and pull straight out in a single, fluid motion. But don’t just toss the tick into the trash. It’s likely still alive at this point. The CDC recommends you submerge it in alcohol, flush it, or seal it in a plastic container.
NEVER squish a tick with your fingers, if the tick is infectious this can transmit the disease. And be sure to wash your hands thoroughly once the tick has been removed and disposed of.
If you’ve spent some time outdoors it’s possible that you’ve been bitten. Keeping an eye out for certain symptoms can help you get treatment more quickly if you need it.
Tick bite symptoms to watch for
Keep in mind symptoms can show up anywhere from three to thirty days after the initial tick bite. In other words, don’t ignore a symptom simply because it’s been awhile since you were possibly exposed.
While ticks can spread a variety of diseases –from Lyme disease to sometimes deadly Babesiosis—they share many of the same warning signs including…
- Muscle soreness
- Nausea, with or without vomiting
- Swollen lymph nodes
If you experience any of these within the first month of possible exposure to a tick bite, be sure to see your doctor even if the symptoms go away. Since these diseases don’t clear up on their own, simply because the symptoms have cleared up doesn’t mean the disease has.
In some cases certain symptoms can continue to show up for years. Severe joint inflammation and pain, muscle weakness and full body rash can around long after the initial exposure. Left untreated, tick bites can lead to even more serious health conditions. Illnesses such as meningitis, neurological damage and immune system problems could be triggered by a bite..
Enjoy your summer, but remember to also remain vigilant during tick season.