Maybe you’ve had that moment, where you feel a little tickle on your chest, leg, or arm, you investigate, figuring maybe an ant or some other relatively benign insect has crawled its way onto your body, but upon closer inspection, a stab of fear joins that creepy crawly sensation as you find it’s a tick that's probing your skin, waiting to dig in and have a meal. Yes, it's unpleasant, but it's pretty important that we know how to keep these parasites from getting too close, and if it does happen, what to do next.
VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Erica Berl, epidemiologist for the Vermont Department of Health.
If someone finds a tick on their body, Burl said the most important thing is to remove the tick with one of the many tick removal tools that you can find in stores, or even just a pair of fine-nosed tweezers.
“Get it right next to the skin and pull up steadily and remove the tick. That’s number one. And then you can wash the area just to prevent any secondary infections. If it hasn’t been attached more than 24 or 36 hours, your risk of getting Lyme Disease is very low,” Berl said.
The Health Department recommends daily tick checks. If you missed your daily check, it can be hard to tell how long it’s been embedded. Berl said if a tick is not obviously engorged, it probably hasn’t been attached that long.
A tick bite doesn’t necessarily mean a trip to the doctors for antibiotics.
“There is a protocol for adults to receive a dose of antibiotics if the tick has been definitely engorged and you go to your doctor within about three days of removing the tick. Even that—there’s research to back it up that it’s somewhat effective – but even people who didn’t seek treatment, the vast majority of them did not get ill. But we always encourage people to talk about it with their physician and make that decision with their health care provider,” Berl said.
Ticks are more prevalent in Southern Vermont and the Champlain Valley, and less commonly found in the Northeast Kingdom and at higher elevations. Even within regions, some habitats are better for ticks than others, they like humid wooded areas.
Last year, Vermont reported 674 confirmed cases of Lyme Disease, the highest number ever. The classic symptom is the expanding red bulls eye rash, which is not painful or itchy, sometimes accompanied by general flu-like symptoms, like muscle and body aches.
“However, a few people won’t get the rash, and they may just experience those flu-like symptoms, the dragginess, the fatigue, the just not feeling well. And then if it doesn’t get picked up in that early stage and treated, people can go on to develop neurologic symptoms especially what’s very common is something called Bell’s Palsy which is a sudden nerve paralysis. That can actually have a lot of different causes, but in the summer time, Lyme disease is probably one of the main causes. And even things like arthritis, with big swollen joints can happen later on,” Berl said.
“Research does not support there being chronic infection and the research has not supported so far that giving long term antibiotics helps. But doctors are free to treat people as they think is appropriate,” Berl said. “Good studies that have been done, looking at treatment have found that for the vast majority of people, treatment is effective, and that the standard recommendations are absolutely adequate for treating the vast majority of people.”