Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Adirondack Family Activities: Be Careful of Ticks

I recently spent my Sunday in the Emergency Room due to a classic “target” shaped bite that showed up on my ankle after an Earth Day weekend of clearing trails and picking up roadside garbage near Westport, N.Y.

Not only did I get to spend my leisure time with the ER staff but I, usually so diligent with tick searches, did everything wrong regarding my own health. So to save you a trip to the ER and a bothersome dose of antibiotics, here are some safety tips for tick prevention.

I live in the northern sector of the Adirondack Park and did not take into consideration that the above average warm temperatures in the southern Adirondacks would bring out ticks earlier than usual. I had dressed for the cold with dark pants and socks. I was on my knees clearing brush and digging out long forgotten garbage. I was careless and now have a 14-day round of antibiotics to show for it.

By the time I noticed the classic bullseye tick bite indicator, I no longer had the tick to identify. Based on the shape of the rash and that I had been out in the woods, the doctor recommended that I take the course of antibiotics as a safety measure.

I could have been bitten by a wood tick, not a deer tick, but with no arachnid to identify, I erred on the side of caution. If you are bitten, save the tick by extracting it (directions below) and putting in a glass jar.

As soon as I noticed the classic bullseye, I immediately went to the ER to be examined. The chance that I will contract Lyme Disease and suffer any permanent damage are slim. Not every tick bite carries Lyme Disease.
The eight-legged deer ticks are of the arachnid family, and even when full grown will be about the size of a sesame seed. Deer ticks are significantly smaller than the larger wood ticks the dog may bring home. (Dogs can also contract Lyme, so check your animals frequently.)

A deer tick must be attached to its host for at least 24 hours in order to transfer the disease. So remember to continue to check for ticks after every outing and wash all outside clothes.

Lyme Disease is not the only bacterial infection spread by deer ticks. Anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are the other less commonly known diseases. Each disease has some common symptoms such as fatigue, fever, chills and muscle ache. The symptoms won’t start to materialize from anywhere from one week to eight weeks, which makes proper diagnosis difficult.

According to the New York State (NYS) Department of Health these simple procedures will help to avoid tick bites.
1) Wear light-colored clothing to spot ticks easily, tuck pants into socks and shirt into pants when in tick-infested habitats, including wooded and grassy areas.

2) Check for ticks on clothing or skin after every two to three hours outdoors. Brush off any ticks on clothing before they can attach to skin. Check children and pets regularly for ticks.

3) Check entire body for ticks at the end of the day.Pay particular attention to the back of the knees, behind the ears, the scalp, the armpits and your back.

4) Carefully read and follow instructions on insect repellent product labels.5) Don’t apply repellents directly to children. Apply to your own hands, using your hands to apply to the child.

5) Products containing permethrin should be applied to clothing, not skin, treating the clothing before putting it on.

6) Don’t assume that repellents will provide complete protection from ticks.

7) Removing a tick within 36 hours after it begins feeding, reduces your risk of infection. To remove a tick: Use tweezers, grasping the tick near the mouthparts, as close to the skin as possible. Don’t squeeze, crush or puncture the body of the tick, which may contain infectious fluids. Pull the tick in a steady, upward motion away from the skin. [UPDATE: Use a small curved fork available from veterinarians for use on pets; it’s equally effective on us. Sliding the fork under the attached tick, rotate the tool counterclockwise until the tick simply comes off.]

8)After removing the tick, disinfect the bite site with soap, rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. Wash your hands carefully. Record the date and location of the tick bite. If a rash appears or you experience flu-like symptoms over the next 30 days, contact your health care provider immediately.

Have fun in the woods, but be careful when you are there. Please check yourself and your children frequently for ticks.

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Diane Chase is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities guidebook series, Adirondack Family Time. She writes about ways to foster imaginative play through fun-filled events and activities in the Adirondack region.

From her home in Saranac Lake, Diane also writes a weekly family-oriented newspaper column for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and keeps her own blog Adirondack Family Time. Her writing and photography has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines, marketing companies and advertising agencies.

She even finds time to assist her husband with Adirondack Expeditions guiding families and young adults in the High Peaks.

5 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Diane, a classic symptom of BB infection. Why didn’t they order a test for infection rather than antibiotics just in case? What ER was this?

  2. Lindsey says:

    That rash is a classic symptom of Lyme Disease. You already have Lyme. When MDs have biopsied those rashes they have always found the bacteria that cause Lyme to be present. You might not have any other symptom, but they also don’t develop right when the rash does. Keep a close eye on yourself. I developed the rash first, then a fever, and then it progressed into the worst migraine with stiff neck and confusion, intense joint and muscle pain, and severe vertigo for months.

    @Paul – none of the currently used tests (ELISA and Western Blot) are very accurate. The test that IS accurate is rarely used and you have to ask for it (it is the IGeneX blood test); even then, some doctors refuse to use it. Also, the bacterium is able to hide in body tissues, avoiding detection by your immune system, so your body isn’t yet creating antibodies. All commonly used tests test for your antibodies against that infection, not for the bacterium itself.

  3. Dave Gibson says:

    Diane, we find the best way to remove an attached tick is the small curved fork available from veterinarians for use on pets; it’s equally effective on us. Sliding the fork under the attached tick, rotate the tool counterclockwise until the tick simply comes off. That ensures removal of the tick’s mouth parts; pulling with tweezers does not.

  4. Diane Chase says:

    HI all, Thanks for reading. The rash I have is a classic tick bite infection and due to the fact that I was in the woods extensively, in a well-know tick-infested area, did not have the tick to identify , had not searched myself after being there (careless – shaking fist at self), I could have just been tested.

    The issues are that tests are rarely accurate and most symptoms may not show up until 8 weeks after the bite. Immediately starting the antibiotics was the option I chose.

    The sign of the bull’s eye does not mean that you have Lyme, it does mean that you should go to a doctor and not wait.

    My mother-in-law suffered from Lyme and it took numerous appointments before finding out what was wrong. She did not develop a rash but suffered many of the symptoms described by @Lindsey.

    The important thing is for people to get to the ER or physician and take control of his/her own health.

  5. Diane Chase says:

    @Dave – Great tip! I am going to amend the article to make sure people have the information!

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