Should Tick Bites Be Taken Seriously??

Yes! While seemingly more annoying than dangerous, a tick bit can transmit Lyme disease and so should be taken seriously.  By preventing exposure to ticks and responding to any bites which do happen in a timely and appropriate way, you can significantly reduce the chance of contracting Lyme disease.  As Spring finally begins to settle in and we all begin to venture back outdoors to enjoy being active (RiseVT wants you to be active this summer!), it is a very appropriate time to revisit the topic of tick bites and Lyme disease.   

The Vermont Department of Health has a great booklet entitled “Be Tick Smart” that is available (along with other great resources on Lyme disease) at: http://www.healthvermont.gov/prevent/lyme/lyme_disease.aspx. It explains that Lyme disease is an infection which may affect the skin, heart, nerves, or joints. Symptoms, which can appear between three and thirty days following infection, can be vary widely and include “fatigue, chills and fever, muscle and joint pain, headache, and swollen lymph nodes.” In 80% of people infected, an EM (erythema migrans) rash appears and typically has a “bull’s eye” appearance as it’s center clears as the rash may clear as it spreads. Infections not recognized and treated in the early phase can cause “numbness and pain in the arms or legs; paralysis of facial muscles; fever, stiff neck, and severe headaches if meningitis occurs; abnormal heart rate (rare); and joint pain and swelling.”

Lyme disease is spread in the eastern United States through the bite of deer ticks (also known as black-legged ticks).  Here in Vermont, the reported cases of Lyme disease are most prevalent in the southwestern corner of the State and dissipate some as you move north and east. Still, it is an issue here in Franklin and Grand Isle counties.

The VDH booklet shares great tips on preventing tick bites: “avoid high grass and bushy areas as much as possible; wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts to minimize skin exposure to ticks; tuck your pants into your socks to form a barrier to keep ticks out; wear light-colored clothing so you can easily see ticks on your clothing; check for ticks, looking for what may look like nothing more than a new freckle or speck of dirt, and remove ticks promptly; use effective tick repellants on your skin or clothing.” For repellants, the booklet points towards DEET in concentrations up to 30% (and not for infants younger than 2 months old), as well as Picaridin, Oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR353 and points readers to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website for more information: http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect/index.cfm If you do find a tick on you, it should be properly removed as soon as possible as it can take 36 hours for a tick to transmit the bacteria which causes Lyme disease. The booklet provides a good visual direction for how to use tweezers to remove a tick and warns not to use “petroleum jelly, a hot match, nail polish, or other products to remove a tick. These methods are not effective.”

If you think you are experiencing the symptoms of Lyme disease, or even if you encounter a tick and want medical assistance with it, please call your Primary Care office. You can also get prompt medical assistance with ticks through Northwestern Urgent Care, open 7 days a week in Cobblestone Health Commons on NMC’s Campus in St. Albans and 6 days a week on Route 7 in Georgia. Both of those offices can be reached by calling (802) 524-8911 and you can even see their wait times online at www.northwesternmedicalcenter.org.

Timely attention is important, so don’t let days lapse if you need help with at tick bite.. With these tips in mind it is time to get outside and enjoy the sunshine!

— Jill Berry Bowen, NMC’s Chief Executive Officer