Preventing Tick-Borne Illnesses While Social Distancing Outdoors

During the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be enjoying the outdoors as we’re told to social distance, but the warmer temperatures mean a pest is lurking—ticks!

Caption: From left to right:  Deer tick, dog tick, lone star tick (uncommon in New Hampshire)

In New England, the most common illnesses contracted from ticks are Lyme Disease, Anaplasmosis, and Babesiosis. They are all transmitted by the bite of a deer tick (black-legged). They are not transmitted by dog ticks. Two other tick-borne diseases, Tularemia and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are rarely seen in New Hampshire.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease can be very non-specific such as fever, headache, neck pain, muscle, and joint pains. The characteristic “bullseye” rash, which expands slowly over several days, is another sign of early Lyme Disease. “It is very helpful in making the diagnosis, when it’s present,” SolutionHealth’s Dr. Alexander Granok, MD, a specialist in infectious diseases, explains. 

More severe symptoms can include Bell’s Palsy or weakness of facial nerves. Swollen joints can also be a sign of late Lyme Disease, appearing many weeks or months after infection.

Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis can both begin with fever, headache, and fatigue. “Patients with these infections typically look sicker than those with Lyme Disease,” Dr. Granok explains. He says patients often have characteristic abnormalities of their white and red blood cells, platelets, and liver function tests that typically suggest the diagnosis to a healthcare provider.

There are several preventive steps you can take to prevent tick-borne infections. When hiking, try to stay out of tall grass or heavy underbrush. Wear light-colored clothing. This makes it easier to see ticks. You might also consider treating your clothing (not your skin) with 0.5% permethrin, which is an insecticide. You can also spray exposed skin (avoiding the eyes, nose, and mouth) or clothing with an EPA-approved insect repellant such as DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus.

When you head inside from hiking or working in the yard, Dr. Granok says you should do a full-body tick check, removing your clothing. “Pay particular attention to the hairline, the ears, under the arms, in the belly button, the groin, the inner thighs, and behind the knees. Washing your clothing with hot water and/or drying on high heat will also kill ticks that may still be present,” he explains. If your pet was outside, you should also do a tick check on them as well.

If you find a tick on you, don’t panic. Remove the tick as soon as possible by grasping it as close to the skin as possible with a pair of fine tweezers. Ticked Off™ can be a very useful product to help remove a tick. “Do not try to burn the tick off with a match or other flame. Also, do not ‘dig’ the tick out. If the head or mouth breaks off during the removal process, that could increase the risk of a skin infection,” Dr. Granok says.

If you removed a deer tick that was likely attached to you for more than a day, call your healthcare provider. Dr. Granok says, “a single dose of the antibiotic Doxycycline, given within three days of tick removal, will prevent most cases of Lyme Disease.” He also recommends saving the tick so that it can be examined by your healthcare provider to determine if it’s a deer tick.

Posted: 5/18/2020 by Elyssa Ellis, SolutionHealth