By all accounts, Vermont's woods and natural areas are swarming with ticks. A mild winter and a flash of summer-like temperatures in March have left prime conditions for ticks, and doctors are now treating a host of patients with bites a good six weeks early.
But not all ticks carry Lyme disease and not all bites will result in the potentially debilitating condition.
"The tick has to remain attached to you for 48 hours to have the possibility of transmitting Lyme disease. Not all ticks carry Lyme disease, but the ones that do-- even if it has Lyme disease-- have to be on your body attached for two full days to have a risk of getting Lyme disease from the tick bite," said Dr. Stephen Leffler of Fletcher Allen Health Care.
Leffler says if you've been in the woods or just out in your yard playing or doing lawn work you should be checked each night. But what do you look for and how does a tick feel on your body?
"If you just run your hand over the back of your child's leg you can usually feel them. I mean even a small one that's not engorged feels different. That how a lot of people feel them on their dogs, too," Leffler said.
It might feel like a skin tag, even the small ones that get embedded in your skin. Leffler says ticks can be found in common places on the body.
"So basically when a tick gets on your body it crawls up your body until it hits something that stops it. So we see a lot of them at the back of your knee, at your underwear line, in your armpits or your elbows where you've creased your arm. The tick will crawl up your arm to there and when it stops there, that's where it will bite," Leffler said. "And then along your hair line is one of the very common places to get them... because when they crawl up your neck that's where they'll stop."
The best way to remove a tick is to grasp it near its head-- the closest part to your body-- and use gentle steady traction, but don't squeeze too hard. Tweezers or other tick removers can be used, but Leffler says trying to burn them with matches, or kerosene does not work and can actually make the tick burrow back into your skin.
So when should you see a doctor?
"Anybody who gets flu-like symptoms afterwards or especially if they get the bull's-eye rash should come to the hospital and be seen," Leffler advised. "We're also recommending if you know the tick was on you for a couple of days that you probably should be seen because we are probably giving prophylaxis to some of those people, but not all."
And if caught early, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics before any serious side effects result. But the best medicine during tick season is prevention and screening your skin regularly.
Doctors recommend socks, long pants, and long-sleeve shirts if you have to be in the woods. Also, tick repellents with permethrin can be applied to your clothing. Leffler says those are highly effective in killing ticks before they reach your skin.
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