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VA Maryland Health Care System


Tick Bites Increase in Summer

Photo of lawn mower.
Monday, June 25, 2012

The recent mild winter, which left deer ticks alive, hungry and looking for food, can create optimal conditions for the transmission of Lyme Disease. In the United States, 82 tick species collectively can cause nine major diseases, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians, with Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme Disease the most common.

The VA Maryland Health Care System offers the following tips to protect yourself, your family and your pets from Lyme disease when you step outside this summer. "Those who contract Lyme Disease don’t know they have it since the tell-tale ‘bulls-eye’ rash may not always appear, and it is difficult to diagnose because the bacteria is known as a great masquerader," said Dr. Martin Garcia-Bunuel,  deputy director of Managed Care and a primary care physician at the VA Maryland Health Care System. The risk of being bitten by an infected tick is greatest in summer, especially in May and June, and people are just as likely to contract it in their backyards then hiking in the woods. Many tick-related diseases have symptoms similar to the flu, including high fever, headache, muscle aches, vomiting, and loss of appetite.

Prevention Outdoors:

  • Wear light colors so it is easier to see ticks; scan clothes and exposed skin frequently for ticks; avoid sitting directly on the ground.
  • Use insect repellent containing DEET, and follow the label directions.
  • Shower as soon as possible when returning indoors; do a full-body tick check of yourself, your kids and your pets, whenever possible.
  • Keep long hair under a hat that has been treated.
  • Wear pre-treated clothing designed to kill ticks.

Around Your Home:

  • Keep lawns mowed and trimmed short; clear brush, leaf litter and tall grass from around the house and along the edges of gardens and walls.
  • Stack woodpiles in dry locations, preferably off the ground.
  • Clear all excess leaf litter out the garden in fall.
  • Spray your residential safe zone with insecticide in late May to kill nymph ticks and in September to kill adult ticks.
  • Do not use woodchips in play areas because the chips provide ideal environment for ticks.

After a Tick Bite:

If a tick bites, remove it using fine tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the surface of the skin as possible. Do not use your fingers.  Pull firmly but gently, and do not jerk or twist.  Be careful not to puncture the body of the tick since its fluids may contain infectious agents.  Do not use chemicals like nail polish remover, liquid soap, oils, or by heating it with a match, which can kill the tick before it disengages its mouth parts, causing the tick to regurgitate it contents into the wound and increasing the likelihood of transmitting a number of diseases.

  • Clean the tick attachment site with warm soapy water and/or rubbing alcohol.
  • Apply antibiotic ointment to help protect the bite site from additional contamination.
  • Preserve the tick in a small, sealed zip lock bag with a slightly damp cotton ball for identification. 
  • Call your health care provider. DO NOT WAIT for a rash to appear.  Less than 50 percent of people with Lyme Disease report a rash.
  • Remember that Lyme Diease isn’t found only in deer ticks and Rocky Mountain spotted fever isn’t restricted to lone star ticks. All tick species carry one or more known disease organisms, especially in areas that are highly endemic for Lyme disease.

Veterans should contact the Telephone Care Line for the VA Maryland Health Care System at 1-800-865-2441, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for medical advice.



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