Avoiding Tickborne Illness

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) recently issued a warning that we’re entering tick season. People in our area are at higher risk of tickborne illness these days—most likely, say scientists, because climate change and an increase in the deer population have brought more ticks to Illinois and the surrounding states.

Tickborne illnesses, which around here include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and babesiosis, can be serious for people of every age. Seniors are at a higher risk of serious complications—even death.

The best way to avoid contracting one of these diseases is to prevent tick bites. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds us to avoid places where ticks are often found, such as woodsy areas and piles of leaves. Use an insect repellent containing DEET. And make your yard less tick-friendly by clearing leaf litter, tall grass and brush.

If you do go for a walk in a Forest Preserve or other woodsy spot, check your clothing when you get home. Take a shower to wash off unattached ticks, and while you’re at it, perform a thorough tick inspection of your body. They frequently settle in under our armpits, in the waistband of clothes, in our hair, our ears and even in our belly button. Help children and senior relatives if they can’t do it alone. Check the family dog and cat, as well.

And what if your inspection reveals that you did pick up one of these unwelcome hitchhikers during your outdoor outing? The sooner you remove it, the better. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), headquartered in Schaumburg, recently offered these tips for removing a tick that is attached to your skin:

  1. Use tweezers to remove the tick. Sterilize the tip of the tweezers using rubbing alcohol and grasp the tick as close to your skin’s surface as possible.
  2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Avoid twisting, squeezing or crushing the tick, as this can cause its head or mouth to break off and remain in your skin. If this happens, use tweezers to remove the remaining parts. If you cannot remove the rest of the tick, have a doctor remove it. (The AAD recommends consulting a board-certified dermatologist.)
  3. Dispose of the tick. Place it in a sealed bag or container; submerse the tick in alcohol; or wrap it tightly in tape. You may also want to save the tick in a sealed jar. That way, if you develop any symptoms after the bite, the tick can be tested for disease.
  4. Clean the bite area with soap and water.

The CDC warns against folk remedies, such as painting the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or burning it with a hot match to make it let go. These methods that rely on the tick to remove itself actually are more likely to make the tick burrow deeper, where it can deposit yet more germs into your skin.

The IDPH also warns that if you notice a rash that looks like a bull’s-eye, or a rash anywhere on your body, or experience an unexplained illness that’s accompanied by fever, report it to your doctor right away.

Source: IlluminAge with tips from the American Academy of Dermatology

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider. Report signs of tick-borne illness to the doctor, and ask about recommended insect repellents.