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What You Need to Know About Tick-Related Illnesses

Man spraying bug spray

Dr. David Gerson, Sherwood Family Medical Center

Ticks are a part of outdoor life in Arkansas, and sometimes, a tick bite can lead to illness. Read on for what you need to know about tick-related illnesses.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is an infection that causes a fever and a rash of red spots. The ticks that can carry the germ that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever are called the American dog tick, the Rocky Mountain wood tick, and the common brown dog tick. These ticks normally feed on animals, including dogs, mice and deer.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever (in almost all cases)
  • Headache (can be severe)
  • Flu-like illness
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Nausea, with or without vomiting
  • Belly pain (especially in children)
  • A skin rash. The rash caused by Rocky Mountain spotted fever causes red blotches that turn white if you press on them. The rash usually starts on the ankles and wrists and spreads to the body.

See your doctor or nurse right away if you were bitten by a tick and develop a fever and any of the other symptoms above. Even if you were not bitten by a tick, see your doctor or nurse if you have a fever and a rash. There is a blood test that can show whether you have Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but the results of the test take a long time. Doctors usually must diagnose the infection based on symptoms and begin treatment with antibiotics to fight the infection as soon as possible.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is an illness that can make you feel like you have the flu. It can also cause a rash, fever, or nerve, joint, or heart problems. People can get Lyme disease after being bitten by a tick. When a certain type of tick bites you, it can transmit the germ that causes Lyme disease from its body to yours. But a tick can infect you only if it stays attached for at least a day. Ticks cannot fly or jump.

Symptoms can start days or weeks after a tick bite, and include:

  • A rash where you were bitten. The rash often appears within a month of getting bitten. It is red, but its center can be the color of your skin. It might get bigger over a few days. To some, it looks like a "bull's eye."
  • Fever
  • Feeling tired
  • Body aches and pains
  • Heart problems such as a slowed heart rate
  • Headache and stiff neck
  • Feelings of pain, weakness, or numbness

See your doctor or nurse if you have a tick and you cannot get it off or if you think you have had a tick attached for at least 36 hours (a day and a half). Lyme disease is usually treated with antibiotics. Blood tests can show if you are infected with the germ that causes Lyme disease. But, it takes time for the blood tests to turn positive. This means the tests won't work if you get them right after being bitten. Also, sometimes the blood tests come back negative even when you have the rash that goes with Lyme disease. Because of this, if you have the rash, the blood test is not needed to confirm that you have Lyme disease.

Steps to Help Avoid Getting Bitten by a Tick

  • Wear shoes, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants when you go outside. Keep ticks away from your skin by tucking your pants into your socks.
  • Wear light colors so you can spot any ticks that get on your clothes
  • Use bug spray to keep ticks away. On your skin, use bug sprays that have a chemical called "DEET." On your clothes and gear, use bug repellants that have a chemical called Permethrin.
  • Check your body for ticks after being outdoors or with dogs. Be sure to check your scalp, waist, armpits, groin, and backs of your knees. Check your children, too.

What to Do if You Find a Tick on You or Your Child

If you find a tick on your body or on your child, use tweezers to grab it. Then pull it out slowly and gently. After that, wash the area with soap and water. You do not need to keep the tick, but knowing what it looked like can help your doctor decide about your treatment.

See if you can tell:

  • Its color and size
  • If it was attached to your skin or just resting on your skin
  • If it was big, round, and full of blood

You should watch the area around the bite for a month to see if a rash occurs.

Watch the video to learn more on how to safely remove a tick and what to look out for if you have been bitten: