Heading Outdoors? Watch Out For Ticks

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Whether you’re gardening in the backyard or heading into the woods for scenic hikes, watch out for ticks this summer. They often lurk surprisingly close to home – in brush, woodpiles and freshly mowed lawn.

Ticks carry myriad diseases, including Lyme, Bartonella and Babesia. Each of these (and more) can cause long-term damage unless they’re caught early, explains Dina Ibrahim, M.D., a family medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. To make matters worse, the poppy-seed sized critters can also be tough to spot. And since they inject numbing venom into the skin during a feed, people often don’t realize they’ve been bit.

But there is some good news: Ticks have to be attached for 36-48 hours to transmit disease. Of course, your best defense is to avoid getting bit. Barring that, removing a tick soon after it attaches can help you sidestep infection. Here, Dr. Ibrahim shares how to protect yourself from ticks – and explains what to do if you get bit.

Protective measures to take:

  1. Cover up. Wear long sleeves, long pants and shoes. Tuck your shirt into your pants, your pants into your socks, and your socks into your shoes. Another tip: Opt for light-colored clothing to make it easier to spot a tick.
  2. Wear repellent. “Choose products with 30% DEET whenever possible, and for added protection, wear clothing treated with the tick repellent permethrin,” Dr. Ibrahim says. Unlike spraying permethrin on clothing, which lasts for 6-8 washes, clothing manufactured with permethrin lasts 70 washes or the life of the fabric.
  3. Do nightly tick checks. Search your body, hair and even covered areas, including your inner ears, armpits, belly button and groin for those pesky critters. Just keep in mind that ticks vary in size from a poppy seed to a sesame seed. Better yet, take a shower immediately after coming inside from an outdoor excursion. Go for a hike? Hit the shower. Weed the garden? Rinse off immediately afterward. If you hose down soon after coming inside, you have a good shot at washing ticks off before they can embed.

If you spot a tick:

  1. Don't wait to remove it! “If you see a tick, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible,” Dr. Ibrahim says. “The tweezers should clasp the head of the tick. Avoid compressing the tick’s body. If you don’t have tweezers (or small forceps), remove it by hand using paper or cloth to protect your fingers." If it doesn’t detach easily, hold a flame near the tick so its muscles relax, making it easier to remove.
  2. Make sure you don't puncture the body of the tick. Pull straight up gently but firmly, using steady pressure. "Do not squeeze, crush, or puncture the body of the tick because its fluids may contain infectious agents," says Dr. Ibrahim. "Do not jerk or twist the tick since this may cause its mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin. If the tick’s mouth parts remain in the skin, try waiting for the parts to fall out spontaneously; digging them out may increase the risk of soft-tissue infection."
  3. Be sure to disinfect. After removing the tick, disinfect the bite site and wash your hands with alcohol or soap and water.
  4. Take yourself – and the tick – to the doctor as soon as possible. Since Lyme is a reportable illness, the doctor should send the tick to the health department to be tested for Lyme and other pathogens.
  5. Pay attention to symptoms – even months later. While the telltale sign of Lyme disease is a bull’s-eye rash or swollen red nodule, symptoms of Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections are often vague and easily dismissed. “You may experience flu-like symptoms such as muscle aches, fever and fatigue in the weeks following a bite,” Dr. Ibrahim says. “Months later, those who are carrying a tick-borne illness may suffer from headaches, arthritis-like swelling and pain and memory problems.”

“If you think you’ve been bit by a tick, err on the side of caution,” Dr. Ibrahim says. Left untreated, tick-borne diseases can progress from mild symptoms to debilitating organ involvement.

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Learn about our same-day care options. To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Dina Ibrahim practices family medicine and sees patients of all ages at Henry Ford Medical Center – Southfield.

Categories: FeelWell