Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tick Alert!

There are some things about a mild winter that are not welcome and that is the simple fact that ticks are even more fierce then usual in the spring, summer and fall months that follow. Already we have spotted ticks on my son when he rolled on the front lawn playing badminton recently, on our clothes after we pruned some shrubs, and on our jackets after playing at a local playground. We have also heard from several friends about ticks that were on and imbedded in their children after brief outdoor play activity. WOW!

Recently, I had one such very unwelcome traveler attach itself to my thigh on our vacation last week.  I actually felt the moment of impact when a sharp pain shot up my leg and felt itchy in the area immediately. I began to scratch at the site furiously through my jeans only to feel something unexpected and I knew instinctively what it was: a tick! YUCK. Sorry, I am truly a tad grossed out by all things tick related especially given the fact that I know so many people who truly suffer ongoing flare ups from Lyme disease caused by these tiny creatures of havoc.

This particular tick was imbedded in the back of my thigh and not going anywhere soon. As my sister tugged on the tweezers, pain shot up my leg. This tick was clamped down and not about to let go without a fight. After some time, and several body segments later, it was finally removed. It was most unpleasant and not the way I would have like to start a vacation, but what can you do?

Since all this transpired, I did some reading up on ticks and learned quite a bit in the process. So I wanted to pass along some truly great information in the hopes that it will help all of you when and if the time comes to remove these vampiric arachnids from yourself, or worse, your loved ones!

There are many varieties of ticks and each tick has a varying degree of shape and size depending on where is is in its  growth cycle. Deer tick are so tiny, even as adults, which is what makes them so hard to spot on clothing and skin areas. They don't jump out at you like the large one I had chomp into my thigh. (BTW, ticks don't actually chomp, they secrete a type of novacaine-like fluid from their mouth area that, in theory, should make you unaware of their entry into your skin. Most people are not allergic, but some are, as I must have been when the tick clamped into me causing immediate pain and itching.)

Ticks mouth parts perform just  like barbed wire in skin which is why they are able to hang on and not fall off easy. I just read recently of a dog that was lost for 6 weeks in our local area. After it was found it had 100 ticks alone on just its face! That did not include the rest of this poor creatures body. Let's hope that dog recovers from the fact that surely at least one of those ticks was indeed infected with Lyme or some other bacteria.

When you are removing a tick:

1. DO NOT TWIST, but place the tweezers up against the skin and the head of the tick and firmly clamp down on the tweezers and pull straight out. 

2. DO NOT put Vaseline, oil or any other liquid matter on the tick prior to removal. It does NOT help in fact, it makes the situation worse as the tick becomes stressed and releases the toxins from its mouth into your skin. This GREATLY increases the risk of infection.

3. DO SAVE the tick in a baggie upon removal to show to your doctor, and YES call the doctor after you remove one.  If your doctor suspects infection, especially if the person bitten gets any flu like symptoms, nausea, vomiting, dizziness or heart palpitations, the tick can be sent to a lab to be analyzed to determine the type of bacteria in order to select the appropriate method of antibiotics to pursue.

The sad, but true fact is that ticks can infect you with not just Lyme, but Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Encephalitis, and a host of other illnesses that can indeed be life threatening. And it is not just deer tick that are infected! So do not assume anything where a tick is concerned. The younger or earlier the tick is in its growth cycle the less chance it has of carrying infection. A hard to tell truth which makes it even more important to SAVE the tick in case symptoms occur.

IMPORTANT FACT: NOT ALL INFECTED TICKS LEAVE A TELL-TALE BULL'S EYE RING on the skin! In fact, many do not. Also, the bulls eye ring may not show up for one to two weeks after a tick bite has occurred.

I have known too many people who found out they have contracted Lyme Disease AFTER the fact. The best chance of prevention is antibiotic treatment as soon as possible. Years ago, I worked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and was able to help a colleague.  She had spent the weekend removing brush from her property and mentioned that she seemed to have gotten a rash from some plant.  Looking at her upper arm, it had the classic bull's eye mark: distinct and clear as a bell. I told her she needed to get that looked at right a way by a doctor. She did, and in so doing learned that indeed she had most likely been bitten by a Lyme ridden tick and she was immediately placed on antibiotics. I am happy to report she is doing well 10 or so years after the fact. PHEW!

Here are two helpful sites regarding ticks:



Both are filled with vital information about these tiny arachnids that survived our mild winter and will be out in full force. These sites discuss prevention as well as proper tick removal.

As for me, I went to an ER walk in clinic the day after my attack (HA, HA) and was placed on an antibiotic as a precautionary measure. Fine with me. All I know is that this particular tick hurt upon entry and removal.  I am also lucky that my body felt and reacted to the bite, otherwise who knows how long this uninvited and most unwelcome guest may have snacked on me! Double YUCK!!! This is tick number 3 in my life time. I hope to KEEP it that way!!!

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