Recently our family went on a camping trip. Our kids loved how we canoed our supplies across a lake and set up our campsite. My wife and I were reminded how much work it is. Soon our children were experiencing more mosquitos, flies, caterpillars, and ticks than they had ever seen before.
On one of our lovely hikes, nearly every time I looked down, I found another tick crawling on my shoe or leg. Ticks love tall grass, wooded areas, and other moist and humid environments often close to the ground. Although you may find them on your head, they don’t normally drop down from above, rather, they start low and crawl up.
Ticks are not insects. They are part of the arachnid family, cousins to scorpions, mites, and spiders with two body parts and eight legs. Ticks commonly enjoy sucking the blood of deer, cats, dogs, mice, squirrels…and humans.
Blacklegged ticks, sometimes called deer ticks, carry borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease. These ticks live in the eastern half of the United States.
Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue, and the classic target-like rash called erythema migrans. If caught early, this disease is often successfully treated with antibiotics. If not, later stages can affect multiple body systems including the heart, joints, eyes, and nerves.
Other types of ticks can cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, babesiosis, and ehrlichiosis. Rocky Mountain spotted fever also causes fever, headache, nausea, and rash. Treatment within five days decreases the risk of progression to severe disease.
If you find a tick latched onto your body, it is best to use tweezers and pull it off at its head as close to the point of attachment as possible. Pull upwards with steady, even pressure and avoid squeezing the tick’s body. Clean the skin afterwards and dispose of the tick.
When outside in the grass, weeds, garden, or woods, consider wearing long pants and tucking the pant legs into your socks to help prevent ticks from accessing your skin. Apply tick repellant on lower clothing and check for ticks at the end of the day.
Despite checking frequently, my son found a tick on him after we got home, and I found one on me two days later. We enjoyed sharing our love and respect for nature with our children, plus they learned how to safely remove a tick. Next time, we hope to bring home lots of great memories, and no ticks.
Andrew Ellsworth, M.D. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at www.prairiedoc.org and on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show celebrating its twentieth season of truthful, tested, and timely medical information, streaming live on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.