Ticks invite themselves to your barbecue and hang around long after the party is over. A Mass General expert explains how to have fun and be safe.
Tick Stages
The black legged tick or deer tick is known to spread Lyme disease. The one on the right is engorged after eating a meal.

The late spring and early summer are a great time to get outside and hike, play sports or barbecue with family and friends. Just remember, some uninvited guests may show up at your party—ticks like this time of year, too.

Ticks are parasites that can transfer diseases, like Lyme disease, when they bite people. In the Northeast, Lyme disease is a major concern. It can cause fever, headache, fatigue and rashes. Serious complications include arthritis, heart palpitations and loss of muscle tone in the face.

Prevention

Unlike mosquitoes, ticks are active all day and night. But a few simple tricks can reduce your risk of getting a tick-borne disease.

  • Create a barrier. Wear long-sleeves and pants and tuck your pants into your socks. Ticks tend to latch on around the foot and ankle and slowly crawl up your body.
  • Use DEET-containing insect repellents. The range of 12 to 25 percent should be sufficient. Read the label. DEET is OK to use on children, but not on infants.
  • Clean up your yard. Remove leaves that are decomposing and keep the grass cut short. See mass.gov for more tips.
  • Perform tick checks when you, your children and pets come inside. Check the entire body. Look in the hair at the top of the head, in and around the ears, the armpits, in the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs and at the waist. Have loved ones examine difficult to see areas. Take a shower. Check clothes and backpacks and tumble them in the dryer. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for more tips.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about protecting pets.

Tick Removal

Don’t panic. Removing a tick within 24 hours reduces the chance of contracting a disease.

  • If you are outside, and the tick has not bitten you yet, simply flick it off.
  • If the tick has attached itself to you, grab a pair of clean tweezers. Grasp the tick close to your skin surface and pull upward—slow and steady. Clean the area and your hands with soap and water and/or rubbing alcohol. Then, flush the tick down the toilet or save it in a sealed bag for your doctor.
  • Call your doctor, especially if you think the tick may have been on you longer than 24 hours. Antibiotics are effective in preventing Lyme disease, but must be taken soon after the bite.
  • If you are on Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard, call your doctor. These places are epicenters of Lyme disease. Your doctor may be more likely to recommend that you take an antibiotic.
  • Watch for signs of infection, including fatigue, rash and fever.

 

Dr. Harris
N. Stuart Harris, MD, MFA, FRCP Edin., is an attending physician at Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Emergency Medicine. He also serves as chief of Mass General’s Division of Wilderness Medicine and director of its wilderness fellowships. He has helped patients in the wild and trained doctors in wilderness medicine. His research has taken him to Alaska’s Mount McKinley and the Amazon.

 

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