Thanks to a relatively mild winter with no extended period of subfreezing temperatures, ticks are off to a banner year. My wife and I pick up at least one tick every day we spend outdoors.
Our dog has fared much better because his tick prevention medication (Frontline) is effective. I can’t remember the last time I removed an attached tick from him. We humans, on the other hand, must be more proactive and check for ticks after every outdoor adventure.
Ticks cling to grasses and other vegetation, waiting for warm-blooded hosts to pass by. Immature ticks are small and difficult to notice. Fortunately, blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis, formerly called deer ticks) must be attached for at least 36 hours to transmit the Lyme disease bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi).
How they attack
When a tick attaches to a human host, the bacterial spirochetes live in the tick’s midgut. Over the next 18 hours, as the tick feeds, blood enters the midgut. Then the spirochetes multiply and become infectious.
About 24 hours after attachment, infectious spirochetes migrate to the tick’s salivary glands. Then, 36 to 48 hours after attachment, infectious spirochetes are injected into the host.
Over the next week the spirochetes spread throughout the host’s body, and symptoms ensue. This explains why attached ticks removed within 24 hours are unlikely to infect victims with Lyme disease.
The spirochetes have not had time to reach the host’s bloodstream. This is also why attached ticks should not be removed with fingers. Getting a good grip often requires squeezing the tick, which essentially transforms the tick into a hypodermic needle.
Squeezing an engorged tick forces its infected saliva into the host. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics.
A better, more effective treatment for Lyme disease is prevention. Avoid tall grass and dense woody vegetation. Use a DEET-based repellent on clothes and exposed skin.
Tuck pant legs into socks and wrap in duct tape.
Do frequent tick checks. At the end of the day, do a thorough, full-body inspection, including “all cracks and folds.”
And don’t forget to check the car. After a field trip to a favorite park or wild area, ticks can get into a pile of clothes or slip into the upholstery where they can stay alive for months.
So shake all clothing before throwing it into the back seat. If you find an attached tick, here’s advice from the CDC. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
Pull upward with steady, even pressure. If the mouthparts break off, remove them with the tweezers. Then clean the area with rubbing alcohol and soap and water.
A few years ago an ER doctor recommended an even better tool for removing attached ticks from dogs and people. The “Tick Twister” is shaped like a pry bar. You slip the plastic head of the Tick Twister under the tick’s mouthparts and twirl it around three or four times, and the tick lets go.
It’s quick and easy. At $4.99, the Tick Twister is cheap and effective, so anyone who spends time outdoors should always have a few on hand.
I’ve used the Tick Twister several times, and it really works. Tick Twisters are available online at www.ticktwister.com and at some pet stores and drug stores.
If, after a few days you find a tell tale bull’s-eye rash, or develop symptoms such as chills, fever, headache, achy muscles, swollen lymph nodes, and/or fatigue, see a physician familiar with Lyme disease.
Treatment with antibiotics is effective if prescribed early. Blood tests for Lyme disease are notorious for false positives and false negatives. For example, I’ve been plagued by a variety of Lyme disease-like muscle aches and joint pains for more than two years.
I’ve tested negative for Lyme disease three times, but two neurologists and an infectious disease specialist have been unable to treat my symptoms.
If any readers have had a similar experience, I’d like to hear about it.
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