As the warmer weather lures people out of their homes and out into nature, it’s important to know how to protect yourself from one of Michigan’s native insects: the tick.
Ticks, particularly deer ticks, can transmit infections like Lyme disease. While transmission rates are relatively low, that risk increases if the tick has been attached for longer than 24 hours.
“That's why we want people to be aware of the danger so that they look for ticks and remove them before they have a chance to transmit infection,” says Carrie Roberson, PA, a physician assistant with Holland Hospital Primary Care – Grand Haven.
Keeping pets safe from ticks.
Pet owners can give their pets medications that kill ticks once they attach, but those medications do not keep your pet from accidentally carrying a tick into your house. Ask your vet about collars made with the insecticide permethrin, which can prevent ticks from crawling on your dog and making their way into your home. Be aware that these collars can be toxic, so your dog should only wear them when they go out in the woods.
Keeping yourself safe from ticks.
When you go into wooded areas, make sure all of your skin is protected with clothing. You can even wear clothing treated with permethrin. Applying DEET spray can also be helpful.
When you come home after a hike, fully undress, take a shower and check your skin and hair for ticks. You can also throw your clothes in a dryer on high heat to kill any ticks.
If you do find a tick, remove it immediately. “As long as it has been on for less than 24 hours, the risk of transmission is really low,” says Roberson.
It’s important to take the entire tick out intact. Use tweezers to pinch the tick right at the head at the surface of the skin. Pull straight up without twisting and get the whole head out of your skin.
The most important factor after finding a tick is figuring out how long it’s been there. “Most of the time, people know the time frame because they know when they went out to the woods,” said Roberson. If the time frame is unclear, you can judge how long the tick has been on your skin by how engorged its body is.
Ticks and Lyme disease
“If you find a deer tick and it has been attached for less than 36 hours, we will often give a preventative single dose of doxycycline as long as we can start it within 72 hours of tick removal,” says Roberson.
If you think you have been bitten by a tick, it is important to monitor the area for a progressively enlarging rash called erythema migrans. Erythema migrans is the earliest sign of Lyme disease and can be effectively treated with amoxicillin if caught early. This rash slowly expands over days or weeks, often with a central bullseye where the bite occurred. While the rash is typically not painful, it may burn or itch.
According to Roberson, most cases of Lyme disease occur when a tick went unnoticed, fed for four or five days, died and fell off. “We want to catch it in the early stage with that expanding rash,” she says. “If we treat Lyme disease early, we have very high success rates.”
Where can I learn more?
The providers at Holland Hospital Primary Care - Grand Haven are committed to providing the Grand Haven community with close-to-home access to high-quality primary care, including annual physicals and health screenings, chronic disease management, health education and prevention, and lifestyle and sports medicine.
New patients can request an appointment at (616) 394-3200. Current patients can call (616) 344-1033 for appointments.