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April 17, 2017

Staying Safe From Ticks

by John Hastings

If you’re finding more ticks on Fido, Tiger, or, heaven forbid, yourself this spring, it’s not your imagination. A mild winter is leading to a bumper crop of ticks this year, according to experts at the National Pest Management Association. That means you and your pets have a higher risk of exposure to tick-borne diseases like Lyme, says Leonardo Huertas, MD, emergency department physician and chairman of emergency medicine at Huntington Hospital. As an ER doc, Dr. Huertas has removed plenty of ticks from patients who have discovered that they’re carrying a bloodsucking guest. Here’s his advice for making sure you don’t end up with one, too.

Cover up. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when you go for a hike in a wooded area or through tall grass, advises Dr. Huertas. For more protection, tuck your pants into your socks. “It looks a little strange,” he says, “but it’s a great way to keep the ticks from reaching your skin and latching on.” Add to your defenses by using bug repellant; look for one with 20% to 30% DEET.

Check yourself. As soon as you get home, inspect yourself and your pet for ticks. You don’t want to miss any critters that are hitchhiking on your back, scalp or some other hard-to-see part of your body, so use a mirror or get help checking yourself. The good news is that a tick must be attached for at least 24 hours to transmit an infection, so you have a good-sized window in which to mount your search-and-destroy mission. Taking a shower within a couple of hours of your outing can help wash ticks off before they attach.

Get rid of invaders. If you find a tick, use a pair of fine-tipped tweezers to detach it. Grasp the tick as close to its head as possible and pull firmly and steadily. “The tick will start to loosen its jaws and should come away intact,” Dr. Huertas says. If the mouth-parts of the tick are left behind, try to remove them with the tweezers, but don’t dig around, and don’t worry if you can’t get everything. Clean the area (and your hands) with rubbing alcohol or soap and water, and let it heal. If the tick was attached longer than 24 hours, your physician might prescribe a prophylactic course of antibiotics.

Let your doctor know. If you develop a fever or rash within a few weeks of a tick bite, tell your doctor, Dr. Huertas says. It’s important to note that Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections don’t always trigger a bull’s-eye rash, so pay attention to persistent feelings of fatigue, joint pain or fever. Your doctor will probably prescribe a six- to eight-week course of antibiotics, Dr. Huertas says. “In most cases, that will do the job.“