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Rachel McGuffey, M.D., Lexington Clinic Pediatrics 


During summer, we have frequent calls and visits due to tick bites. Ticks are arachnids that wait in grasses and bushes to attach to a host. They then attach and feed on blood from the host. Their secretions can cause local irritation at the bite site, but also can transmit disease, with the most common being Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease.

When removing ticks, you want to be sure to remove as much of the tick as possible. Ticks are attached firmly to the skin making removal difficult. If you find a tick crawling on you, using tape or cellophane to get the tick and dispose of it to help prevent disease transmission. If the tick is attached, the best procedure is to use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and then remove it. Using burning matches can cause burns to the individual with the tick bite and should be avoided.

After removal of the tick, cleanse the area with soap and water to remove any of the secretions or remaining parts. Applying antibacterial cream for a few days will help prevent local infection.  

If you have fever, rash, irritability or joint swelling after a tick bite, you should contact your doctor for an evaluation. The hallmark of Rocky Mountain spotted fever is fever and a rash following tick bite. Early signs include nausea, headache, and fever, followed by the petechial rash. In Lyme disease, there is a round rash surrounding the tick bite followed by swollen joints and flu-like symptoms. Both diseases need prompt antibacterial treatment to prevent more serious sequelae.  

Tick bites themselves can cause local redness and swelling especially in sensitive body areas. If these areas are warm and painful, or redness is spreading after initial reaction, your doctor should check it for infection.

The key to tick bites is prevention. If you know you will be in wooded areas, wear protective clothing and/or bug spray to prevent attachment. Make sure to check your hair and body for ticks after being in these areas. The longer a tick is attached, the more likely it is to cause disease. If you own pets, make sure to use preventive spray/medications to help prevent tick attachment to your pets. Although you cannot get disease from your pet, the tick can come off your pet and reattach to you.