Tick Season Health Issues

By David Newton, MD

Well, it is tick season here in Franklin County and I’ve already had to pull a few of those bad boys off of myself! This seemed like a good time to share some useful information with you all and hopefully prevent tick borne illnesses.

The saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Is even more relevant to tick born illness. While there are many suggested home remedies, there are also some proven precautions and I’ll outline those.

If you plan on going outside and working or being exposed to a particularly woody area, you really ought to consider treating your pants, shirt, socks, and shoes with 0.5% permethrin. While it isn’t safe for direct skin application, it’s directly applied to your clothing and needs to settle in for the prescribed length. Another easy tip Is to wear light/bright colored clothes as this helps with spotting ticks quickly.  Also, tucking clothing into waist band areas and shoes helps prevent them crawling under the clothing. Loose clothing that drags against brush is an easy way for ticks to climb abroad.

The other three agents that seem to be the most effective and are safe to apply directly to skin include DEET, Picaridin, or IR3535. Now that being said, IR3535 is not as effective as DEET or Picaridin for mosquitoes but is twice as effective for tick bite prevention. Lemon Eucalyptus, PMD, or 2-undecanone are additional options, however, shown to be less effective.

After outdoor activity it is very important to check yourself and children for ticks. They can crawl into hair and body crevices. If you find a tick attached to your body, use a pair of tweezers.  Grab the tick at the base of its head and as close to your skin as possible. Apply constant retraction force, with even pressure, until the tick releases. Don’t burn it, crush it, etc, while it is attached to your skin. Clean the area with soap and water after the tick is removed. Save the tick in a sealed bag so that your doctor can take a look. This can help to determine the species and the probable duration that it was attached.

There are several different diseases that ticks carry. Some species of ticks are more likely to carry certain disease than others. Some of those diseases may include: Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Southern Tick Associated Rash (STARI) Ehrlichiosis, and one of my personal phobias- alpha-gal allergy, which makes you allergic to red meat.

The big thing to look for after a bite is a rash originating from the  bite that continues to enlarge. You may hear about certain appearances of the rash,… one being target like.  However, that pattern isn’t always present. Some people may experience severe fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fever, and chills. Very often it is challenging to diagnose tick born illness because it mimics flu and many other viral illnesses. Symptoms also have delayed presentation sometimes 3-30 days after tick bite.

With all of the symptoms being considered, the likelihood of you actually contracting an illness after being bit by a tick is low. It may even be very unlikely as it depends on the species and length of time which the tick has been attached.

To summarize, if you are bitten by a tick….first, you must remove the tick as described above. Save the tick. It is helpful to take a picture of the associated rash, if one is present. Write down the symptoms you have experienced and discuss with your doctor. Pending their evaluation, you might be considered for a prophylactic antibiotic dose of Doxycycline. It is the drug of choice for tick borne illness.

If you think you may have a tick-borne illness, contact the Weems Medical Clinics in Apalachicola or Carrabelle for an appointment.

Dr. David Newton is the lead primary outpatient primary care  physician with Weems Memorial Hospital through a cooperative agreement with Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. Dr. Newton is available to see patients at both the Apalachicola and Carrabelle medical centers of Weems Memorial Hospital. Call the Weems Medical Center West in Apalachicola at 850-653-1525 or the Weems Medical Center East in Carrabelle at 850-697- 2345 for an appointment.