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Ticks: How to Avoid Them and What to Do If You Get Bit

Published on Jun. 30, 2021

Ticks are small arachnids that feed on the blood of rodents, rabbits, birds, deer, dogs, and people. A tick bite may cause redness, itching, and slight swelling at the site. Sometimes you may not react where the tick bit you.

Ticks transmit disease when microbes in their saliva get into your skin and blood. There are over 800 species of ticks, but only two families of ticks (hard ticks and soft ticks) are known to transmit diseases to humans. Michigan’s five most common ticks include:

American dog tick. This tick will bite both companion animals and humans. Though rare, diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever can occur from this type of tick bite.

Blacklegged tick. This tick is especially prevalent along the West Coast of Michigan, including many of our northern Michigan counties. The blacklegged tick carries Lyme disease as well as certain rare diseases. The blacklegged tick can transmit Lyme disease as well as other notable infections such as Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis.

Lone star tick. This tick is described as an aggressive biter and can causes diseases like Rocky mountain spotted fever.

Woodchuck tick. The woodchuck tick is typically found on pets throughout Michigan.

Brown dog tick. Though not as common as other Michigan ticks, this tick can survive indoors.


Where are Ticks Commonly Found?

Ticks generally favor forested and grassy areas, including along trails. Some ticks, such as the woodchuck tick, tend to live near skunk and woodchuck dens, where they will bite curious animals and sometimes humans. The brown dog tick can also survive and multiply indoors, and often stems from kennels, shelters, and breeders.


How Ticks Transmit Disease

Ticks often transmit a disease near the end of a meal. The hard ticks tend to attach and feed for hours to days. It may take hours to days before a hard tick transmits microbes. Soft ticks often feed for less than 1 hour and can transmit diseases quickly. The bites themselves aren't cause for concern. But ticks can carry and pass on 12 different illnesses, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.


Lyme Disease: Should You Be Concerned?

Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. This spiral-shaped bacterium is most commonly spread by a tick bite. The disease gets its name from Lyme, CT, where the illness was first identified in the U.S. in 1975.

Lyme disease is a year-round problem in many parts of the U.S. and elsewhere. But April through October is generally the most active tick season. Cases of Lyme disease have been reported in nearly all states in the U.S. and in large areas in Europe and Asia. But the most common areas are the Northeast, upper Midwest, and northwestern states.

Factors that can increase your risk for getting Lyme disease include:

  • Working or spending time outdoors in grassy areas where the black-legged deer tick or Western black-legged deer tick is found
  • Having pets that can bring the ticks into your home

How to Avoid Tick Bites

Clothing

Dress appropriately to prevent and identify tick bites by wearing:

  • Light-colored clothing
  • Long-sleeved shirts
  • Socks and closed-toe shoes
  • Long pants with legs tucked into socks

Other Preventive Steps

  • Strongly consider using insect repellents containing DEET. Please note that products containing permethrin can be sprayed only on clothing, not on your skin.
  • Shower after all outdoor activities are over for the day. This may wash away ticks before they become fully attached to your skin.
  • Check pets and children for ticks.

Checking for Ticks

Look for ticks often on:

  • All joints: behind the knees, between fingers and toes, and on underarms
  • Other areas where ticks are commonly found: belly button, neck, hairline, top of the head, and in and behind the ears
  • Areas of pressure points, including anywhere that clothing presses tightly on the skin

If You Find a Tick

Not all ticks carry disease. A tick that attaches to you anywhere from minutes to days may infect you, depending on the type of tick and the germs it carries. If you find a tick, don't panic.

  • Try to carefully remove the tick with tweezers.
  • Grasp the tick near its head as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull without twisting and don't crush the body.
  • After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
  • Put a live tick in alcohol, or in a sealed bag or container, or flush it down the toilet.

Tick Bites: What to Look for

Symptoms of tick-related diseases vary depending on the disease. The most common symptoms are:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Aches and pains such as headache, extreme tiredness (fatigue), and muscle aches
  • Joint pain (with Lyme disease)
  • Rash

When to get medical care

If you remove a tick yourself, watch for signs of a tick-borne illness. Symptoms may show up in a few days or weeks after a bite. Call your healthcare provider if you notice any of the following:

  • Rash. This may spread outward in a ring from a hard, white lump. Or it may move up your arms and legs to your chest.
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Body aches, joint swelling, and pain
  • Severe headache


A "bull's eye" rash is a common symptom of Lyme disease.

Be sure to tell your provider about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.

  • You may be asked to see your healthcare provider for a blood test to check for Lyme or another tick-related disease. Your physician won’t typically order this test right away, since Lyme disease can take weeks to develop.
  • To prevent disease, you may be prescribed antibiotics, depending on the type of bite and the length of time the tick attached itself.

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