More than 35,000 cases of tick-related illnesses were reported in 2009, making ticks one of the leading carriers of disease in the United States. Wake Forest Baptist Health offers tips on how to stay safe during the peak of tick season.
“Only about 60 percent of people who contract tick-associated illnesses remember or recognize the tick bite,” said Christopher Ohl, MD, associate professor of infectious diseases at Wake Forest Baptist. “Ticks can be hard to determine due to their small size, bites that occur in a difficult-to-see location, like behind the knee or on the scalp, or the tick can fall off before a person can check for them.”
Ohl says that almost all people who contract these illnesses, such as Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, have spent some time outdoors in common activities such as gardening or hiking, but the vast majority of them will not get an infection or illnesses.
Ohl suggests the following tips:
- Avoid wooded or grassy areas and high vegetated spaces, where ticks are often found.
- Use a repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET on skin or clothing to repel ticks for several hours. Make sure to avoid the hands, eyes and mouth.
- After being outdoors and in tick-infested areas, check for ticks using hand-held or full-length mirrors to view all parts of the body, especially the hair. Remove any tick that is found.
- Shower within two hours of coming indoors to reduce the risk of being bitten by a tick. Also place clothes into a dryer on high heat for at least an hour to effectively kill ticks hiding on clothing.
- Pets can also be carriers of ticks. Make sure to check pets and administer tick medicine or put a tick collar on them.
- Remove the tick immediately.
- Use fine-tipped 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 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 hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
- For disposal of the tick, submerge it in rubbing alcohol and put it in a sealed container and throw away.
If an individual becomes ill after a tick bite, they should seek medical attention.
Learn more at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention section on ticks.