I just found a tick! Do I have to worry about Lyme disease?
Don’t panic, let’s look at the facts.
First of all, only blacklegged ticks (Ixodes, deer ticks) can transmit Lyme disease. Lyme is a spirochete bacterium that is transmitted through the tick’s saliva into the human that the tick is biting. So, we need to know what kind of tick it was. Deer ticks are brown or red/brown with 8 black or brown legs. If it has a white mark on its back, then it is not a deer tick. Before they are engorged with blood, the adult deer tick is about the size of a sesame seed and the nymph (teen) deer tick is the size of a pinhead. Once they are engorged with blood, they can be much larger.
Second of all, a deer tick has to be attached and feeding, for >=36 hours in
order to transmit Lyme. So, if the tick is discovered before 36 hours from the woodsy outdoor activity, or is discovered with a flat, non-engorged body, then there is no chance of Lyme transmission.
The key is finding and removing the deer tick before 36 hours.
When doing a body check for ticks after spending time outdoors, make sure to check the armpit, behind the knee, the groin, behind ears, and the scalp.
The way to remove a tick is to use fine-nose tweezers to grab the tick as close to the attachment point to your skin as possible. Lift with a steady, firm direction backwards from the skin. Do not squeeze the tick body, nor twist, nor use a match or fingernail polish, as these methods can make the tick express more saliva into the bite wound.
After removing the tick, wash the skin and hands with soap and water. If the head is left in the skin, leave it in place as digging to remove it can cause trauma, and natural skin sloughing will eliminate it in a few days.
If you are not sure of the timing of the bite (went hiking on multiple days in a row and did not find the tick until the last day, for example) then your doctor can prescribe you a single preventative dose of an antibiotic to prevent Lyme if given within 72hours of finding the tick.
There is no benefit in blood testing for Lyme at the time of the bite, as a positive blood test will not be apparent until 2-6 weeks after the bite.
If you develop a rash that looks like a target symbol, which is called erythema migrans (EM), then you do have early Lyme and need 14-21 days of antibiotics. EM occurs in 70-80% of patients with Lyme disease, usually within 1 month following the tick bite.
During the first days or weeks of infection, patients often have nonspecific symptoms like fatigue, sore joints, headache, or enlarged lymph nodes.
If you found the tick after it was attached for 36 hours and develop neurologic or cardiac symptoms, then you could have early disseminated Lyme and could require intravenous antibiotics.
There are all sorts of supportive treatments to optimize your immune system, methylation, and gut health during the stressful time of the tick bite. See your health care practitioner to guide you.
Dr. Bren Boston sees patients at the Akasha Center for Integrative
Medicine at 520 Arizona Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401.