Lyme disease is spread by a tick bite. Complications from this disease, however, are rare. Giving up picnics, hikes, and camping because of this pest is an overreaction to the small risk.
Lyme disease has been divided into three stages. If treated with antibiotics, it does not progress from one stage to the next.
Stage I: 3 to 30 days after the tick bite
Stage II: 2 to 12 weeks after the tick bite
Stage III: 6 weeks to 2 years after the tick bite
Lyme disease is caused by a type of corkscrew-shaped bacteria called spirochetes. The bacteria are transmitted by little deer ticks the size of a pinhead, dark brown, and hard to see. Lyme disease is not carried by the more common wood tick, which is bigger (1/4 to 1/2 inch in size).
In most states only 2% of deer ticks carry Lyme disease. In the New England states, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, however, up to 50% of deer ticks are infected with Lyme disease. In these high-risk areas, up to 2% of children bitten by a deer tick get Lyme disease.
If not removed, a tick will stay attached to a person's skin and feed there for 3 to 6 days. For Lyme disease to be transmitted, the tick needs to be attached for at least 24 hours. You are more likely to get the infection if the tick remains attached for more than 48 hours.
Lyme disease is usually cured by 14 days of oral antibiotics if it is diagnosed during stage I. If it is not diagnosed until stage II or III, a month of antibiotics may be necessary, and the antibiotic will probably be given by injection into a muscle or vein.
Antibiotics should be given to any child who develops a rash characteristic of Lyme disease within 1 month of having a deer tick bite or within 1 month of being in a high-risk area. Remember that most deer tick bites do not pass on Lyme disease.
Because a tick's bite is painless and doesn't itch, a person usually does not know that he or she has been bitten by a tick. Immediately after being outside or at least once a day, check the bare skin. Ticks like hair and dark places, so carefully check the scalp, neck, armpit, and groin. A brisk shower will remove any tick that isn't firmly attached.
If you find any ticks, remove them right away. Removing ticks promptly may prevent infection because the tick must be attached to the skin at least 24 hours before it can transmit Lyme disease. Also, a tick is easier to remove before it becomes firmly attached.
The simplest and quickest way to remove a tick is to pull it off. Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible (try to get a grip on its head). Pull gently and steadily upward until the tick releases its grip. Do not twist the tick or jerk it suddenly. Such maneuvers can break off the tick's head or mouth parts. Do not squeeze the tweezers to the point of crushing the tick because the secretions released may spread disease.
If you don't have tweezers, pull the tick off in the same way using your fingers, a loop of thread around the tick's jaws, or a needle. Some tiny ticks need to be scraped off with a knife blade or the edge of a credit card.
Sometimes the tick's body comes off but the head stays in the skin. It’s best to remove the head also. Use a sterile needle to remove the head just as you would to remove a sliver.
Dispose of the tick by returning it to nature or flushing it down the toilet. You don't need to save the tick for positive identification. Don't crush ticks with your fingers because crushing increases your chance of getting a disease.
Wash the area of the tick bite and your hands with soap and water after you remove the tick.
Do not use petroleum jelly, fingernail polish, or rubbing alcohol to try to remove ticks. Attached ticks do not back out when covered with these products. Touching the tick with a hot match does not make the tick detach. In fact the hot match could make the tick vomit infected secretions into the wound.
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