By Russ and Tiña De Maris
If your travels take you to tick country, be on the lookout for these biting and often disease-carrying insects. Here are the latest “tick tips” from Amanda Roome, an expert in ticks with Binghamton University.
Find ticks on your clothing? Put your clothing in the dryer on high for at least 30 minutes. Ticks need moisture to survive, and the dryer will kill them (just a washing machine may not).
After a trip through nature, it’s a good idea to check for ticks that may have latched on. Take a long, hot shower, which will hopefully wash off any ticks that may be crawling around on you. If any ticks are embedded, you will want to remove them as quickly as possible. Look for them when you’re in the shower. Ticks like dark, moist areas, so be sure to check in armpits, behind your knees, the groin area, and in your hair.
After your shower, use a mirror and check your back or areas you can’t see well. If a tick has bitten you, grab a pair of tweezers, get as close to the skin as you can, grasp the tick firmly and pull it out. If it has been attached for a while, it may be difficult to pull out (deer ticks secrete a glue-like enzyme, which “cements” it to the host). If you detach the head from the body, that is okay.
Can’t get the tick out? Don’t worry. Treat it like you would any other small wound — put some peroxide or rubbing alcohol on it and leave it be. Other methods (e.g., Vaseline, using a match, etc.) are not recommended because these may just agitate the tick, causing it to burrow a little deeper, or worse, cause it to regurgitate (which may transmit any pathogens it may be carrying into you!). If you do remove the tick, be sure to keep it. Just because you are bitten does not mean you have been infected. Put the tick in a zip-lock bag with some rubbing alcohol.
Take the tick — and yourself — to the doctor. They will be able to identify the species (only the deer tick carries Lyme in the Northeast, but other ticks can carry other disease, and the deer tick can carry more than just Lyme). Your doctor may choose to send the tick out for testing. Your doctor will not test you for Lyme right after a tick bite. Your body’s immune system will take a few weeks to mount a response to the pathogen (if one was transmitted), and antibodies are not detectable right after a bite.
Listen to your doctor. If they choose to get the tick tested, they may treat you if it comes back positive, or they may test you for Lyme (or another tick-borne disease) after your immune system has had enough time to mount a response and the antibodies are at detectable levels. Keep an eye out for potential symptoms of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, and consult your physician if you notice any of the symptoms.