How to prevent tick-borne illnesses

Covering up, using repellent and checking yourself for ticks is key



Deer ticks, also known as Ixodes scapularis, carry more than Lyme disease. There are at least four infections one can get from a deer tick bite: Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis and Powassan disease.

Symptoms of Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis are very similar and include fever, headaches, body aches, and sometimes a skin rash. Powassan disease is more distinct as it can cause meningitis and encephalitis, which causes fevers, headache, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties and seizures.

Preventing tick bites is the primary way to prevent tick-borne infections. There are several preventive steps you can take. When you go outside, be as covered as possible with long sleeves and pants. Using insect repellent containing DEET can greatly reduce the risk of getting a tick bite. Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and walk in the center of trails. You could also wear clothing that has been treated with permethrin (a plant-based insecticide that works on contact).

What if there’s a tick on you? First, it’s important to do regular tick checks when you come in from outside — scan your body for ticks and take a shower to make sure you wash away ticks that haven’t latched on yet.

How to remove an attached tick, according to the CDC:

1. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.

2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause parts of the tick’s mouth to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the tick’s mouth with clean tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal. Contact your doctor if there are any signs of infection.

3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.

4. Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag and/or container, wrapping it tightly in tape or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.

After any tick exposure, you should monitor for symptoms of an infection. If you develop any of the symptoms listed above within several weeks of removing a tick, call your doctor and be sure to tell them about your recent tick bite.

If you don’t recall having been bit by a tick, but you notice that you have symptoms consistent with any of the tick-borne diseases, you should call your doctor. There is treatment available for Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis.

For more information about tick-borne diseases, go to the Centers for Disease and Control website: www.cdc.gov.    

Dr. Antonia Altomare, DO, MPH, is the hospital epidemiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

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