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The Best Treatment for Lyme Disease Is Tick Prevention

June 24, 2019
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said they expect 2019 to be one of the worst years for the small blood-sucking insects known as ticks.

Ticks are small, blood sucking, spider-like insects that make their homes in wooded or grassy places where they can attach themselves to your skin.

They can carry diseases such as babesiosis, anaplasmosis, Powassan disease, and Lyme disease—the most common tick-borne infection. The latter is spread by blacklegged ticks when they bite mice or deer that are infected with the bacteria called B. burgdorferi. The infected tick then passes the disease onto humans with their bite.

Length of Attachment

“Ticks must be attached to the skin for at least 36 to 48 hours before they are able to pass along bacteria to humans that can cause infections like Lyme disease and anaplasmosis,” said Dr. J. Michael Klatte, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Baystate Children’s Hospital.

A report called Vital Signs, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), notes illnesses transmitted by blood-feeding ticks and insects capable of transmitting pathogens – bacteria, viruses, or parasites – from one host to another, have more than tripled nationwide.

Dr. Klatte recommends “tick checks” for both adults and children when returning indoors after being out in wooded and grassy areas, and especially leaf piles, while playing, gardening, hiking in the countryside or camping.

Begin with Clothing

“Check clothing for any visible signs of ticks, then as an additional precaution you can tumble them in the dryer set to high heat for at least 10 minutes before throwing them in the wash. Showering in warm water can also be a good way to gently wash off unattached ticks that have made it from clothing to you or your child’s skin. You don’t want to vigorously scrub the skin and risk breaking in half a tick that might have become embedded in the skin,” said Dr. Klatte.

“While children are undressed, it’s a good opportunity to check their bodies for any sign of an attached tick. Checking your own body may be a little more difficult and require the use of a mirror, unless you have a partner who can check for you,” added Dr. Klatte.

Tick “hot spots” to check include under the arms, inside the belly button, behind the knees, in and around the ears, waist and back, pelvic area, and in-between the legs.

Removing the Pesky Bug

If you do find a tick on the skin, the CDC offers the following tips on how to remove the pesky bug:

  • Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  • Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick, which 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.
  • After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
  • Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.

When To Call the Doctor

“Most of the time the site will heal on its own. Medical attention should be sought if the tick bite site develops redness, swelling, or tenderness to the touch, which could
be a sign of a secondary bacterial infection,” Dr. Klatte said.

If illness develops within a few weeks of a tick bite, seeing a doctor is recommended immediately. Symptoms of Lyme disease that develop within the first month following a deer tick bite can include one or more rashes which may or may not resemble a classic bulls-eye, heart problems, meningitis, and/or facial palsy (a loss of muscle tone or “drooping” of one or both sides of the face). Occasionally, patients are seen with later manifestations of the disease, which most frequently is swelling in a single joint – usually the knee (often referred to as Lyme arthritis). Antibiotics can be used to treat early and late-onset Lyme disease.

But, the best treatment for Lyme disease is prevention.

How To Dress

“If you or your children are going to be out hiking in the woods or playing in bushy or tall grassy areas, dress in long-sleeved shirts and long pants, a hat, and use an insect repellent that contains at least 20-30 percent DEET as additional protection. For those concerned with the chemicals found in insect repellents, there are some natural alternatives available including oil of lemon eucalyptus, which is approved for kids 3 years and older, and others made with natural plant oils,” said Dr. Klatte.

“In certain situations, a dose of antibiotics can be given to children after a tick bite to help prevent development of Lyme disease. Be sure to check with your child’s doctor for the latest information about Lyme disease prevention following tick bites,” he added.

Make An Appointment

To make an appointment with an adult infectious disease specialist, call 413-794-7394, or for pediatric appointments, call 413-794-KIDS.