When I was younger, I remember spending my days in the woods. Playing hide and seek, paintball, or just spending the day looking at bugs. Ticks never seemed to be a thought that crossed my mind. Now that I am 37, it seems that ticks are brought up more in conversation now and extremely feared. I am not sure what has changed over the years, but there definitely seems to be an outbreak of ticks over the past few years. I thought that it was the warmer winters that were keeping them from being killed off. This made me wonder though, do ticks serve any purpose to our ecosystem? After doing some research, I was able to learn that ecologists often use ticks and other parasites as an indicator of an ecosystem’s health. Ticks rely on a healthy hosts of animals including mice, deer, rates, etc) to be able to thrive and reproduce. If there is a large tick population, it is an indicator of a healthy ecosystem and population of these animals. If there is a large drop in ticks, it can typically mean that the surrounding ecosystem is unhealthy. Ticks also act as an important food to birds, spiders, and wasps. This morning I woke up and my wife noticed a tick on me. She was able pull it out. It didn’t look like it had been there long and was not engorged. This immediately frightened her and it resulted in me immediately consulting with my doctor and making a trip to the pharmacy.
So why are they feared so much?
There are two extreme sides to opinions on ticks. Some say that all ticks are bad and cause Lyme disease. Others will tell you that they are nothing to worry about. Ticks (especially deer ticks) can be carriers of Lyme disease which is currently the most common arthropod-borne illness in the U.S. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) there have been over 150,000 cases reported since 1982. In most cases, ticks must be attached for 36-48 hours before they can transmit the Lyme disease bacterium. If found early, it is less likely that the disease was transmitted.
If the tick is engorged (swollen) with blood, it is very possible that is has been there for over 36-48 hours. Ticks typically do not transmit the disease until they are fully engorged.
What happens if the tick was there longer?
If you think that you may have been bitten by a tick, you should consult with your doctor. According to the American Lyme Disease Foundation, only in rare instances does Lyme disease cause permanent damage.
If you have had a tick, or was in an area where ticks were prevalent pay attention to symptoms including a red expanding rash that looks like a “target”. This rash normally appears in 70 to 80 percent of infected persons after about 3 to 30 days (an average of 7). Other symptoms can include fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. Doctors will typically tell you to watch for those symptoms or they will immediately prescribe a medication to reduce the possibility of Lyme disease. According to the Hospital of Special Surgery, the typically prescribed Doxycycline will reduce the risk of Lyme disease to about 1.3%.
If you are treated with the right antibiotic during the early stages most patients recover completely. According to the CDC, approximately 10% to 20% of patients (typically those who were diagnosed in later stages) may have recurrent symptoms and are considered to have Post Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS). PTLDS will typically get better with time, but can often take months to feel well again.
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How to remove a tick
If you find a tick attached, there is no need to panic. Removal can simply be done with tweezers.
Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.