Avoid ticks while enjoying outdoor activities

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There has been a significant increase in the state’s tick population this year. This has led many Michiganders to brush up on the precautionary measures to reduce the chances of being bitten by ticks.

Protect yourself by covering up as much skin as possible when going to grassy or wooded areas. Wearing a hat, long-sleeved shirt, and long pants with the legs tucked into socks can be helpful. You can also use a bug repellant that contains a chemical such as DEET, IR3535 or Picaridin. Always check clothing after being outside, remove any ticks, and toss the clothes in a dryer and run it on the high-heat cycle for an hour to kill any ticks that remain. You should also take a shower within two hours of coming inside.

“Most tick bites will resolve themselves and not lead to tick-borne diseases,” says McLaren internal medicine physician Dr. Jason Whateley. “But it’s best to avoid being bitten in the first place.”

Tick Bites
If a tick is latched on to your skin, it is important to remove it as quickly as possible. The best way to remove a tick is to use a pair of tweezers to grip it by its head and mouth so they do not remain embedded in your skin when the tick is pulled away from where it is attached. Use upward and even pressure to remove. Twisting and jerking the tick can cause parts of the tick to break off and remain in the skin. If the tick is already engorged, Dr. Whateley recommends having a healthcare professional remove it.

“Infection can be transmitted through the tick’s saliva,” Dr. Whateley says. “That is why you want to do your best to remove the mouth from the skin.”

Leaving a tick’s head and mouth in the skin does not increase the risk of a tick-borne disease. However, it can raise the risk of infection and should not be left in the body. It a tick is attached to an open patch of skin; it is easy to determine if its head and mouth came off when it was removed. That can be more difficult to do if a tick was embedded in an area of your body where there is a lot of hair.

If a tick is not attached to your skin, a red bump resembling a mosquito bite or a bull’s-eye rash can be a sign of a tick bite, particularly if the bump does not itch and fades away after a couple of days. Because there is an anesthetic in the saliva of the ticks, most people don’t know they have been bitten, especially if they were bitten in areas where they don’t normally check, such as behind the ears or under the waistband of their clothing.

Treatments are available to patients who have recently traveled to an area where tick-borne disease is prevalent and/or are experiencing symptoms, such as a rash, fever, or chills.

If left untreated, a person can develop severe symptoms, such as swelling and joint pain, much like that associated with arthritis, as well as tingling and numbness in their hands, feet, and back. Some can also experience a lack of energy, difficulty focusing, poor memory, and even weakness or paralysis in their face.

Another important part of treatment is observation and follow-up with your doctor. “Vigilant prolonged observation is key to a road of recovery,” Dr. Whateley says. “Medications to treat the infection will often be prescribed, but that does not mean you are out of the woods. There are late-appearing effects with tick-borne diseases that we definitely want people to follow up with their primary care physician.”

Dr. Whateley is accepting new patients. For more information or to make an appointment, click here