Monday, April 23, 2012

Take Time for...Ticks


NOTE: The following is a summary of information I researched on Medscape and eMedicine. To commemorate Tick History Month, I choose to honor these oft-maligned eight-legged insects with a detailed description of how to kill them. In spite of their reputation, you needn't worry too much about ticks; most bites are not infectious. Although the facts are not my own--I have no background in entomology or medicine--I have injected this article with my own brand of humor. Enjoy!

What has eight legs, a capitulum, and drinks from a hypostome? If you guessed the tick, you’re right! In the U.S., tick season spans from April through September. The further one ventures out of the city and into the suburbs, an encounter with this eight-legged bloodsucker becomes more likely. In our neck of the woods, tick-infested areas include Gladwyne, the Wissahickon, and Valley Forge Park.
Ticks are vectors of disease, which is a fancy way of saying that they carry and transmit pathogens (disease-causing substances) to their hosts. In order to move on to the next developmental stage, these tiny vampires need to feed on blood. The bad news is that ticks can transmit illnesses like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tularemia (a serious infectious disease). The good news is that you are highly unlikely to get sick from a tick bite. For example, only around 2-3% of people bitten by Lyme ticks will develop Lyme disease.
A mama tick and her young ones. Awww.

You don’t need to overdo it when it comes to prevention. If you leave the house dressed like a Costa Rican bug-catcher about to venture into the rainforest to collect specimens, you’ve probably gone too far. Some commonsense tips:
·      Avoid crawling through bushes in which ticks may be lying in wait for a blood meal
·      Shower after spending time in outdoor areas known to be tick-infested. Examine yourself and your little ones thoroughly.
·      Use an anti-tick insect repellent. Make sure the brand you choose is approved for children. “Natural” does not mean safe for kids.
·      Treat your dog or cat with preventative treatments such as Frontline
Sometimes, despite your best preventative efforts, a tick will bite you. It is often painless. However, the area around the bite may become red, itch, or burn. Symptoms of transmitted disease usually do not show up until days to weeks later. Some general signs:
·      Fever
·      Flu-like symptoms
·      Numbness
·      Rash
·      Shortness of breath
·      Confusion
Except for the rash, these symptoms warrant a visit to the emergency room. In addition, tell your physician about the bite as soon as possible if you are pregnant or immunosuppressed (your immune system is compromised by chronic disease or a drug therapy).
The sooner you get rid of a tick, the better your chances of avoiding disease. Contrary to popular belief, running around in circles, waving your hands in the air, and shouting will not induce the tick to unhook itself from your skin. Applying a hot match head to the tick is not advisable either; this could actually prompt the tick to release more pathogens!
The best way to remove a tick can be found in the medicine cabinet; a curved or pointed set of tweezers is the instrument of choice. If possible, put on a pair of latex gloves to prevent the tick’s nasty pathogens from getting on your hands. With the tweezers, flip the critter on its back. Then, pinch the tick and pull gently until it comes out. Make sure that you do not leave the head and mouthparts in your skin. However tempting, do not stomp on, squish, or crush the tick after removal. Flush it down the toilet. If you want to keep your tick as a specimen to show your doctor in case you get sick, house it in a lidded jar.
Wash the affected area with soap and water. After it dries, apply an antibiotic ointment. Any further treatment will depend on your diagnosis. Fortunately, most tick bites do not result in serious illness, so don’t allow the small risk of being bitten deter you from enjoying all the outdoor fun that summer has to offer.