What to Know About Tick-Borne Diseases Before Adventuring Outdoors This Summer

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a halt to many of the summer activities we typically like to enjoy. Although festivals, concerts, and sporting events are mostly shut down, there are still plenty of things to do. Many of them involve the outdoors.

While spending time outside is a great way to stave off boredom while also practicing good social distancing, it brings some health risks of its own. One of those is tick-borne diseases.

Although the actual bite of a tick is far less painful than something like a bee sting, ticks are carriers for various diseases. Lyme disease is the most common and can be deadly if not treated appropriately.

Unfortunately, Virginia is one of 13 states that account for more than 95 percent of Lyme disease cases in the U.S.

Knowing some basic info about tick-borne diseases, what to do if you get bit, and how to avoid ticks in the first place is key to having a fun, safe summer.

What are Tick-Borne Illnesses?

Ticks are six-legged insects that feed on the blood of a host. They typically prefer to latch onto a deer or other mammal but don’t hesitate to bite humans. When a tick bites, it burrows its head into the skin so it can feed on the host’s blood.

Since ticks also bite other creatures, they often become carriers of bacteria. One of the most notable is B. burgdorferi, which is the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. When a tick remains attached to a person for more than 48 hours, it is much more likely to transmit those pathogens to the host.

Lyme disease can cause a variety of serious symptoms. However, they start rather mildly. A person usually first identifies a red, bullseye-shaped rash around the site of the tick bite. If left untreated, they develop symptoms like a fever, fatigue, muscle aches, and a headache.

Without treatment, Lyme disease can be fatal. Fortunately, deaths today are rare because the disease can be treated with antibiotics. Early identification and treatment remain key for patients dealing with Lyme disease.

Ticks also carry other diseases. The two other common ones seen in Virginia include Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis. These conditions typically present with the same symptoms as Lyme disease and are also treated with antibiotics.

What Should I Do If I Get Bitten by a Tick?

It’s worth noting that not all tick bites result in Lyme disease or another tick-borne illness. When caught early, ticks can be removed easily and the bite is treatable at home. The most important thing to do when you are bitten by a tick is to remove it.

While there are many ways to do so, the safest method is to use tweezers. Gently grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull upwards to dislodge it. Avoid twisting or squeezing the tick as you may separate the body from the mouthparts—which will remain in the skin. If this happens, don’t panic. Most times, the mouthparts spontaneously fall out.

After removing a tick, thoroughly clean the area with a disinfectant, such as alcohol or Betadine and then with soap and water. If the tick was attached for less than 48 hours, monitor the site at home for signs of a Lyme disease rash. If it was attached for more than 48 hours and the area becomes red, swollen, or hot, consider calling your primary care physician or stopping at a nearby urgent care center to get it checked out.

It’s also important to save the tick after removing it. To kill a tick, simply submerge it in alcohol, seal it in a bag, or seal it in a large piece of tape. It is important to keep the tick on hand in case you develop complications from the bite. Doctors will be able to identify what type of tick it is to better determine a course of treatment.

How to Decrease Your Risk of a Tick Bite

Of course, the best method of avoiding tick-borne illnesses is to not get bitten in the first place. There are plenty of things you can do to decrease your risk of a tick bite.

For one, you should avoid areas where they like to live. Ticks thrive in moist, humid environments including wooded and grassy areas. They also love areas of thick brush, dead leaves, and pine needles.

When adventuring in these areas, choose a tick repellant that’s formulated with at least 20 percent DEET. This type of repellent can be applied to your skin and is effective for several hours.

You should also wear long pants and shirts when you plan to be in an area where ticks are common. Clothing helps prevent ticks from latching onto the skin, so more covering means a smaller risk. Better yet, wearing lighter colors allows you to spot ticks sooner and brush them away.

Once you get home, be sure to perform a thorough check of your entire body. Look under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, in and around the scalp and hair, between the legs, and around the waist. Ticks love dark, hidden places. Remember, the sooner you find one and remove it, the less risk there is of contracting a tick-borne illness.

How Can Urgent Care Help?

If you are bitten by a tick and think you might be developing symptoms of a tick-borne illness, Velocity Urgent Care is ready to help. Our knowledgeable staff will perform a physical exam and inquire about your symptoms. Tick-borne illnesses are a frequent problem in the area, so our team is well-equipped to handle them.

If necessary, we can prescribe a course of antibiotics on-site to get your treatment started. If you need more advanced care, we can refer you to a specialist or a local hospital. As part of Sentara Healthcare, Velocity Urgent Care can share patient medical records with more nearly 3,900 of the best physicians and advanced practice clinicians in Virginia.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are taking serious safety precautions to ensure that our locations are as clean as possible. We’ve put strict sterilization protocols into place and are carefully handling patients who may be contagious to ensure that each one of our clinics is safe for those who need urgent medical care or testing.

Don’t put your health at risk by waiting to seek out treatment!

Velocity Urgent Care offers convenient online registration that helps you limit your contact with others during a visit. You can check-in and register online ahead of time and arrive when it’s time to be seen to skip the waiting room. We even offer text message updates so you can wait in the car (if you prefer) until it’s time for your appointment.

Velocity Urgent Care is an in-network provider for most major insurance plans, meaning you can be seen for the cost of your co-pay and deductible. All of our locations also accept Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare. Veterans Administration beneficiaries are also welcome.

To find out more about our services, locations, hours, and more, visit www.velocityuc.com.