- Amelia Colley, M.D., FAAP
- Philip Dawson, M.D., FAAP
- Scott Iwashyna, M.D., FAAP
9606 Patterson Ave., Richmond, VA 23229
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Tick Bites and Methods of Removal
By Diann Ducharme
With warmer spring weather, children are spending a larger amount of time outdoors. Along with seasonal allergies and pool safety, parents can expect to deal with more bug bites, including the dreaded tick bite.
Ticks attach to the skin and proceed to overstay their welcome, sucking a host’s blood for around three to six days. The first glimpse of the infamous blood-sucker latched Dracula-like on the innocent child’s skin sends most parents running blindly for matches, petroleum jelly and rubbing alcohol.
But before you parents start sprinting for the usual methods of torture, it’s important to be familiar with the facts surrounding tick bites, as well as the easiest and smartest removal strategies.
Tick Bites Are Usually Harmless
First, it’s important to know the kind of tick that you’re dealing with. Wood ticks (also called dog ticks) are brown, up to a half inch in size and transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Colorado tick fever. If you can see the tick’s legs, then you know you’ve got a wood tick on your hands. Deer ticks, on the other hand, are dark brown, the size of a pinhead (and therefore harder to see), and transmit Lyme disease.
Tick bites from either kind of tick are usually painless, and complications from a tick bite are thankfully rare. In most states, only 2 percent of deer ticks carry Lyme disease (the most common disease spread by a tick bite), and in Connecticut, where 16 percent of deer ticks are infected with Lyme disease, the risk of infection after a tick bite is just over 1 percent.
Even so, a “sort of” harmless bite is still an annoyance, so if your family does happen to picnic, camp and hike in woodsy areas, it’s important to prevent tick bites by wearing long clothing, applying insect repellent to shoes and socks and performing tick checks on buddies every two to three hours.
Favorite hiding places of ticks include scalps, necks, armpits and groin areas. A brisk shower after your time outdoors will remove any tick that is not firmly attached to the skin. Removing ticks promptly may prevent infection because transmission of Lyme disease requires 10 to 24 hours of feeding.
You can pull off the tick using tweezers to grasp the tick’s head as close to the skin as possible. Apply a steady upward traction until it releases its grip. Try not to twist or suddenly jerk the tick because these movements can break off the tick’s head or mouth parts. Also, do not crush the tick with the tweezers; the secretions released may contain germs that cause disease.
If the body is removed b
ut the head is left in the skin, use a sterile needle to remove the head. Immediately wash the bite and your hands with soap and water and apply antibiotic ointment to the bite.
Tiny deer ticks must be scraped off the skin with a knife blade or the edge of a credit card.
For those still convinced that they need to smother a tick to loosen its grip, embedded ticks do not back out when covered with petroleum jelly, fingernail polish or rubbing alcohol. Ticks only breathe a few times every hour, so applying these kinds of ointments to cut off oxygen is futile.
Lyme disease, the most common disease spread by a tick bite, is caused by a small bacteria carried by deer ticks. About 7,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported each year in our country.
A tick must be attached for 48 to 72 hours to transmit Lyme disease, so prompt removal of the tick is important.
The disease is usually cured by 14 days of oral antibiotics. Antibiotics should be given to anyone who develops the characteristic rash of Lyme disease within one month of a tick bite. The bull’s eye-shaped rash will be present in 80 to 90 percent of cases, and will show up two to four weeks after a bite and around the bite site.
Contact West End Pediatrics if you can’t remove the tick’s head or your child has a rash or fever within the two weeks following the bite.