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PM Pediatrics
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Dr. Christina Johns
Senior Medical Advisor, PM Pediatrics

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Mother and daughter hiking in forest. Mother is applying tick repellent on the daughter's legs.

Ticks are just plain ICK

Tick season is here. Yes, it is. Do you have a bad psycho-emotional response to ticks? Because I do. I’m proud to report that I’m a general lover of all living things, but in the spirit of transparency, I’m stating that I cannot stand ticks. They’re not really any grosser than any other insect I guess, and I’m not sure if it’s the whole Lyme disease thing or other tick-borne illnesses that have turned me against this entire species, but so be it. They can all take a long walk off a short bridge.

Now that we’ve gotten THAT out of the way…

someone asked me to write a bit about the correct way to do a tick check. So let’s proceed. A few things to note-

1. Ticks cannot fly or jump or blow around in the wind

2. They like humid environments and wooded/grassy areas. Also leaf litter (I just wanted to use that term. But it is true.)

3. Ticks lurk around all year, just are more abundant in summer

4. Know if you are in the endemic areas; mostly the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic US.

There are several different kinds of ticks—from the tiny deer tick that causes Lyme to the larger lone star tick which causes a slightly different fever and rash illness. (both treated with antibiotics, which we can talk about another day)

When you and your kids come in from being outside,

if you’re gonna do a tick check for real, the clothes have got to come off. All of them. Ticks like to attach onto clothing so that needs to come off and get changed and washed after coming inside. And go in the hot dryer. Zap ‘em! It’s a good idea to do another tick check each night as well, just in case you missed something. I suggest that kids hold their arms outstretched all the way while the parent does a head-to-toe visual inspection, paying special attention to the hair, behind the ears, under the arms, the waistline, between the legs, and in the belly button. And a shower is always good, too.

If you find a tick on your child’s body,

the best thing to do is simply grasp it as close to the skin as possible and pull it off firmly. It’s best to cover your fingers with tissue paper or use a tweezers rather than using bare hands. Don’t pull the body of the tick, especially if it is engorged, as sometimes that can cause infected fluid from the tick to go the wrong way into the human. Don’t twist the tick; this might break off the body and leave the head embedded in the skin. Also, I know this sounds crazy but don’t try to burn the tick while it is attached to the skin or put petroleum jelly on it to smother it. Both of these can cause the tick to discharge infected contents into the body. Super yuk.

picking a tick off skin illustration

grasp it as close to the skin as possible and pull it off firmly

Once the tick is out,

wash the area with soap and water and if you want you can put some antibiotic ointment on it. Keep an eye on the area for increasing redness, and if you develop fever and rash, get checked out by your doctor. Lyme Disease doesn’t start right after a tick bite; usually, it’s a few weeks after the bite. We’ll talk about Lyme disease another time, but getting a tick OUT successfully is a pretty good start.

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