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Bit by a Tick? How to Know - and What to Do

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Bit by a Tick? How to Know - and What to Do
Gary Alpert

Prior to feeding, ticks are less than 3/8-inch long - smaller than the size of a pencil eraser. Although their bites can be very dangerous, people rarely feel their bite or even feel them crawling on the skin.

In fact, people often don't realize that they - or their pets - have been bitten unless the tick is seen after it has gorged itself and is swelled up to the size of a grape attached to the body or lying on the ground. Or until the signs or symptoms of a transmitted disease begin to be felt.

Although ticks may be as large as a pencil eraser, some species are as small as the lead tip of that pencil. So it can be difficult to see if a tick is present, much less feel its bite. In addition, it is not only the adult ticks that can bite and spread disease, rather the immature stages can also do so.

Tick Disease Transmission

One of the most dangerous ticks is also the smallest. Even when fully engorged from feeding, the deer tick is only 1/4 mm - approximately 1/100th of an inch. The deer tick carries and transmits the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease, which can have very serious health effects if not caught and treated early.

The deer tick (or more accurately, the blacklegged tick) is found across the northeastern and upper midwestern United States.

According to WebMD, "Most ticks do not carry diseases, and most tick bites do not cause serious health problems. But it is important to remove a tick as soon as you find it. Removing the tick's body helps you avoid diseases the tick may pass on during feeding. Removing the tick's head helps prevent an infection in the skin where it bit you."

Some species, however, do transmit diseases to animals and people. Some of the diseases that can result from a tick bite are Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.

In order to transmit disease, however, the tick generally needs to be imbedded in the skin for at least 24 hours. That is why it is so important to remove the tick as soon as possible.

How to Remove a Tick

To remove a tick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises the following:

  1. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible.

  2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.

  3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.

If a person bitten by a tick does develop a rash or fever at any time, even up to several weeks after removing the tick, CDC advises that he or she see their doctor - telling the doctor about the bite, and when and where it most likely occurred.

Symptoms

CDC also notes that most tickborne diseases have similar signs and symptoms. Most common are fever and chills, aches and pains, and rash.

Symptoms can also become more severe, even requiring hospitalization. But, according to CDC, early recognition and treatment decreases the risk of serious complications. So, the center advises that anyone who has been bitten by a tick and experiences any symptoms see their doctor immediately. (See more detailed symptoms from CDC.)

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