No Social Distancing For Ticks

Ticks don’t care about coronavirus, race or politics.  In fact, all of the extra time you and your family are likely spending social-distancing outdoors is actually increasing your chances of being snagged as a deer tick’s next meal.

Read this now.  Don’t bookmark it to read later.  Do not wait until you are in the midst of a crisis.  Keep reading.

I want you to create a Tick Kit.

Yes, that’s right.  A Tick Kit.

You’re probably questioning my sanity.  She’s paranoid.  She’s obsessed with Lyme disease.

I’m not paranoid.  I may be a tad obsessed, but I prefer the word aware.  I’m aware because it’s real.  It happens to anyone.  Anywhere.  Any age.  And it is hell.  A daily, living hell.  If you are close to someone who has had battled chronic Lyme, you get it.  You’ve seen that crazy world, and you don’t want any part of it.  You aren’t the person I need to persuade.  You may skip the pleading in the next couple paragraphs.

I’m talking to the person whose little voice inside her head is whispering… We don’t live in an endemic area.  We aren’t outdoorsy people.  I am a healthy person; I eat right and exercise regularly.  I’ve never found a deer tick on me or my child.

All of these excuses are invalid.  Healthy people who don’t partake in outdoor activities, like camping or kayaking, and who live right here where you live HAVE been diagnosed with Lyme disease.

Or maybe you are thinking… I use a tick repellent.  I check my kids regularly.  We wear light-colored pants when in the woods.  We shower as soon as we get home.

That’s great! I’m so thankful that you are taking precautions.

But keep reading.

Let’s imagine you notice a piece of black fuzz on your child.  No big deal, right?  Upon closer examination, you realize that the speck is actually a tick.  It’s tiny.  A black-legged deer tick, which is just a fraction of the size of a wood tick.  Time is critical.  Every second that tick feeds on your child’s blood, it is potentially injecting her with Lyme or Babesia or Bartonella or….

Ticks usually don’t just have one infection.  They carry the infections passed on to them from their parents and those of every animal they’ve ever fed on.

What do you do??

There’s no need to panic.  You’ve read about tick removal before.  While you take a minute or so to find this blog post or to google instructions, the tick continues to feed.  While you look for tweezers, the tick continues to feed.  The clock is ticking.  No pun intended.  What do you do?

You need a Tick Kit.  The contents are simple: a pair of tweezers, alcohol swabs, a couple index cards or Post-it notes, a sharpie, and clear tape tossed together in a Ziploc bag.  That’s it.  You probably already have these items in your home, right?

But do you know exactly where to find them?  If your house is like mine, tweezers seem to disappear periodically only to return two or three at once a few weeks later.  Would you have to race to multiple rooms in your house to locate these essentials?  While you are searching, guess what the tick is doing.  That’s right.  Feeding on your child.

Oh, and speaking of that child, what do you think she’ll be doing while you’re off looking for alcohol swabs?  Yep, she’ll be freaking out because the tick is still in her leg.  Even if she’s too young to understand the ramifications, she inherently knows ticks are universally gross and do not belong in her skin.

Please make a Tick Kit.  Heck, make two.  Prepare one kit for your home and one for your vehicle, especially if you’re traveling this summer.  Seriously.  Go.  Come back and read the rest of this once your kit is together.

Ugh.  You’re still here, reading away.  Still doubting the need to do this immediately.

Alright, so what DO you do with that tick?  (By the way, please don’t skim over this section.  Don’t wait until you need it because, just like a scavenger hunt for Tick Kit items, you’ll be wasting precious time.)

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.

Avoid folklore remedies, such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible–not to wait for it to detach.

3)  Tape the tick to an index card or Post-it note.  Write the date, time and location.  If symptoms would later arise, this quick document will help doctors determine the type of tick, number of days since initial bite, etc.  (I do this for all ticks, not just deer ticks.)

4)  Clean the bite area thoroughly with rubbing alcohol.

Okay, so we’ve removed the tick, cleaned the site and logged the event on an index card.  Now what?

Monitor the site and the patient closely.  Symptoms are generally not immediate and can present 3-30 days from the initial bite.  Symptoms are often flu-like –-low-grade fever, muscle aches, headache, fatigue –and/or a bull’s eye rash.  You do NOT have to have the rash to have Lyme disease, nor do you have to have every symptom.  These are dangerous misconceptions.  If you do get a bull’s-eye rash, you absolutely need treated by a doctor.  If you get any of the flu-like symptoms, see a doctor.

Every day I get messages asking what to do after this point.  Do you immediately get testing for Lyme disease?  No, because it takes around six weeks for your body to make the antibodies testing detects.  You need treatment well before you’d test positive.  CDC guidelines have evolved since my diagnosis, thank God, and doctors are now instructed to treat patients based on symptoms, physical findings, and tick exposure.

But you must be your own advocate.

Someone asked me once what I would do if I found a deer tick embedded in my daughter’s skin.  I answered without hesitation.  I would take her to the nearest urgent care and request treatment for Lyme disease.  Does that sound paranoid?  Probably.  But after the years of pain I’ve been through, I would rather be overly cautious, giving my child one round of potentially unnecessary antibiotics, than be hesitant, providing Lyme spirochetes more time to infiltrate her cells, tissues, joints, heart, and brain.  Research has shown early antibiotics are consistently effective in treating Lyme, particularly when treatment begins within the first thirty days of infection.  To me, a round of Doxycycline is worth the minimal risk, comparatively speaking.

Of course, this would be after I’d used my Tick Kit to remove a deer tick, clean the area and document the incident.

Think about it this way.  We actively prepare for most negative events in our lives –life insurance, car insurance, flood insurance, home insurance, health insurance.  Planning does not mean we want our house to flood or our teenage son to get into a fender-bender or our husband to spend an evening in the ER.  We hope we never need to use our insurance, but we maintain it — just in case.

Talking about it and preparing for it makes us responsible.  Not paranoid.

So, do me a favor.  Go grab a Ziploc bag and throw together a little tick insurance.

Just in case.

I’m hoping this is an insurance for which you and your family never, ever have to file a claim. XO!

(Here’s a handy packing list to get you started!)

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One thought on “No Social Distancing For Ticks

Add yours

  1. Dearest Jena,
    I want you to know that you have made a difference. Because of you we routinely check our boys, bag and label any ticks found and are diligent about our tick prevention routines. We recently found an incredibly small nymph on my 5yo and within a week he had developed a bright red rash around the bite site. I immediately took him to the pediatrician and they started a 3-week round of antibiotics for him. The tick was so small that even magnified they couldn’t even determine for sure what variety it was. If not for you, perhaps I would have missed it for days or even weeks. I thank you mama to mama and wish you continued recovery and wellness.


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