I just found a tick on [Sam]. I pulled it out and it was still alive and I wonder if I should be worried about Lyme. He said it had been bothering him for a few days now. Yikes! Have you had this happen before? Should I take him to the doctor? Do you think he might have Lyme disease???
A few weeks ago at 9:30 pm one evening, I received the above text from a good friend who had discovered a tick on her eight-year old son’s neck just under his hairline and wasn’t sure if she should be rushing straight to the ER. The area around the bite had become quite red and irritated and the tick appeared to be engorged, though having never encountered a tick before and having hastily flushed the tick down the toilet after removing it (“nasty critter!”), my friend also could not be 100% certain it was in fact a “deer tick” (common name for the Lyme-carrying western blacklegged tick). Worse still, we had several mutual connections who had been recently diagnosed with Lyme after encountering infected ticks in the hills and woods of the Santa Cruz mountains, here on the San Francisco peninsula, so the fear was genuine.
Springtime is peak tick season and a great time to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer, but it does come with some caveats. Some cautionary preventative measures can go a long way to keep you tick-free but what happens if you do discover an attached tick?
- Keep calm, don’t panic. Remember it usually takes more than 24 hours and can take up to 72 for the bacteria from an infected tick to be transferred so the sooner you remove the tick the better.
- Remove the tick. Use tweezers, a tick nipper, or tick key and be sure to squeeze from the head. (You want avoid squeezing bacteria under the skin.)
- Save the tick. Store in a sealed Ziploc bag or other plastic container. You may want to bring it to the doctor or a local vector control to have it tested. It can be a good first step as the current Lyme diagnostics are still notoriously inaccurate.
- Record as much information as you can – where / when you may have been bitten, how long it may have been attached, and any irritation or other symptoms.
- Talk to your doctor. Your doctor can advise you about the best next steps. Infection rates in the Bay Area are low but the risk is diffuse – infected ticks have been found throughout the county, across the state, and across the US. If you have any signs of infection, early treatment is best and you may need a course of antibiotics. Because the diagnostics are unreliable, your doctor may advise antibiotics based on clinical symptoms, even if the test has not been confirmed.
- Stay vigilant. Regardless of your initial diagnosis, keep watch for potential symptoms that could take a month or more to appear. Be sure to record this information and share with your doctor.
Remember, prevention is always the best medicine!
Tick-check every time you are out and about in tick habitats.
For more information, check out the prevention section on our website.
A list of doctors familiar with Lyme disease can be found here.