I just found a tick! Do I have Lyme disease?

Summertime is around the corner, and hopefully we will all be outdoors enjoying the warm weather.  Unfortunately, ticks also enjoy warm weather.  There has been a lot of confusion lately about ticks and Lyme disease, so we should talk about it.

First of all, only 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 it’s 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, 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.  

Tell all your campers going to sleep away camp that they should do a full body check for ticks once a day.

 When doing a body check for ticks after spending time outdoors, make sure to include 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 find a deer tick that is estimated to have been attached for >=36 hours, then your doctor can prescribe you a single preventative dose of an antibiotic to prevent Lyme if given within 72 hours of removing 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 80% of patients, 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.

You may benefit from 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. www.akashacenter.com   (310)-451-8880

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