What To Do If You Have Been Bitten By A Tick
I remember as a child playing outside and getting really dirty. I loved to make mud pies, jab at slugs in the yard, and crawl around in the grass. Oh the joys of being a kid without a care in the world! I’m sure I had tick bites as a child, but I didn’t really pay much attention to them and never seemed to worry about them as I do now.
With Lyme disease on the rise, now the fastest growing vector-borne infectious disease in the United States, and after seeing many patients suffer from chronic Lyme disease, I certainly am more vigilant about preventing tick bites and taking care after the bite to prevent a deeper infection.
But it’s not just Lyme disease that can be transmitted through the bite of a tick. There are other infectious organisms such as Bartonella, Babesia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Anaplasma, Tularemia, and Tick Born Relapsing Fever that can also cause serious, deep infections in the body if not detected or treated early. In Tennessee the most common infection transmitted by ticks is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever that is transmitted by the Lone Star Tick.
The Lone Star Tick also transmits Alpha-Gal. This small sugar molecule triggers an allergic reaction (can be mild or severe) when someone eats mammal meat like pork, beef, venison, bison or lamb. This allergic reaction can last for years after the tick bite.
Preventing a tick bite is the first step, but what if you have already been bitten by a tick?
So, what do you do if you find a tick on your body?
No, you don’t burn it with a match or immediately yank it off the skin. It’s important to take the proper precautions, so you don’t tear or break the tick.
It used to be thought that ticks needed to be attached for more than 24 hours in order to infect you with diseases, but now we know that is likely NOT the case. You are at risk of infection if they have been attached for a shorter amount of time.
It’s important to use a special tick-removing device that allows you to safely and cleanly twist the tick off the body. This device looks like a small spatula with a slit down the middle that you put the tick through and twist the entire device until the tick is removed. There is an educational “how to video” here. Once the tick is removed, you can wash the area with soap and water and use tea tree oil to disinfect the area.
Place the tick in a small plastic bag and send it to ticknology.org where it can be identified and analyzed for organisms like Borrelia (causes Lyme disease) and coinfections like Babesia, Bartonella, Anaplasma, Ehrlichiosis. and Rickettsia (causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever). I recommend overnight shipping, so you will receive results within 48-72 hours after the laboratory receives your tick.
Should I Take Antibiotic Prophylaxis After Finding a Tick?
Taking prophylactic antibiotics should strongly be considered if you are bitten by a tick. Certainly, if your tick report comes back with an infectious disease, you should notify your doctor immediately. I recommend a minimum of 3-4 weeks of antibiotics: doxycycline for adults and azithromycin or amoxicillin for children.
It becomes extremely important to watch your symptoms for the initial 4-6 weeks. The classic “bullseye rash” or erythema migrans of Lyme disease is an indication that you have contracted Lyme disease. However, this rash is only present in 50-60% of people who have developed Lyme disease. Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt, a well-known Lyme disease expert, believes if you develop the bullseye rash, then you likely have already been infected with Lyme disease in the past, and you are being reinfected.
Other symptoms may also indicate that you are acutely infected. Fevers, diffuse rashes, headaches, joint pain, severe fatigue, digestive issues, palpitations, dizziness or Bell’s palsy are common symptoms. If you develop any of these symptoms, you may be a candidate for extended antibiotic treatment.
I try to avoid antibiotic use in my patients; but when dealing with tick borne illnesses, I make the exception. It may be easier to repair a leaky gut than heal a deep infection like Lyme disease in the body. Supporting your microbiome with fermented foods like sauerkraut and miso and avoiding processed foods and sugar becomes important. Taking high CFU count probiotics (>100 billion) along with Saccharomyces Boulardii can help protect your microbiome while taking probiotics.