Q&A Topic: What You Need to Know About Ticks in Our Area

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Dr. Debra Spicehandler, MD

First thing to do if you’re bitten, symptoms and treatments

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Q: Which tick-borne diseases are common in our area?

A: Lyme is the big one. But the same infected blacklegged tick that transmits the Lyme bacterium transmits three other bacterial diseases: Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis and Babesiosis. You may have heard of a newer tick-borne disease called Powassan. Carried by the same blacklegged tick, this viral disease is currently confined to upstate New York and the Northeast. Ticks become infected by eating meals of blood from infected wildlife, usually mice.

Q: What are the symptoms of these tick-borne diseases?

A: Lyme disease has three stages. Stage #1: At the site of the bite, most people get the characteristic expanding red “bull’s eye” rash with a white center. There can also be fever, chills, headache, muscle and body aches. Stage #2: A facial droop results as the facial nerves are affected.  There can be irregularities of the heart rhythm and/or meningitis: fever, headache and neck stiffness. Stage 3: Symptoms can include arthritis, memory problems and joint swelling. People who get Ehrlichiosis or Anaplasmosis from a tick bite can develop the symptoms listed above for Lyme disease, with a more diffuse rash. Babesiosis invades the blood cells, quickly causing anemia and fatigue.

Q: What if I find a tick on me or my child?

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A: Stay calm. Ticks can’t transmit the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis and Babesiosis until they attach, begin to feed, and become engorged. This takes between 24 and 48 hours. That’s why it’s so important to remove a tick quickly. Using a fine-tipped tweezers, grasp its body and pull in an upward motion until it comes out. Do not squeeze or twist the body. Note its size, color and whether it’s engorged, and estimate how long it’s been attached. Watch the site for a ring-shaped rash that reddens on the outside while whitening in the center. The first symptoms of all four diseases usually occur 7 to 14 days after the bite.  A minority of people never develop the typical rash and instead develop fever.

Q:  How are tick-borne diseases treated?

A:   If you have a “bull’s eye” rash, immediately see a doctor. The antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease is very effective, especially if given early. The other three tick-borne diseases respond well to different antibiotics.

Q: What are effective techniques for avoiding tick bites?

A: Mow your grass frequently. When in a wooded or grassy area, wear long sleeves and long pants in white or light colors. The repellent DEET is effective, and you should also treat your clothing with it. Walk in the center of trails. After being outdoors, examine your body, gear and pets. Shower soon after coming indoors.

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The care and safety of our community during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is Northern Westchester Hospital’s top priority. We have put maximum safety measures in place to prevent exposure to the coronavirus for anyone who comes to the Hospital for emergent or scheduled care. Learn about what we are doing to keep you safe and what to expect if you need care: nwhc.net/covid-19-response 

Learn More About Dr. Debra Spicehandler, MD
Co-Chief of Infectious Diseases
Northern Westchester Hospital

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