OK, this post will be gross for some. But consider it kind of like a Public Service Announcement in the blog world. A week ago Friday, just before leaving for a conference 500 miles away, I was stepping into the shower when I noticed this THING attached to my waist! Instinctively, I brushed it off and it fell to the floor. It looked to me like a beetle of some sort. It definitely had bit me leaving a welt about 2 inches by an inch and a half in diameter with a dark spot in the center.
I cleansed the area, put anti-bacterial ointment on it and bandaged it. And I saved the insect. And when I couldn’t figure out from the internet what this creature was, I photographed the insect and sent it to a faculty friend at OSU who is an entomologist and happens to be the bed bug and tick expert in our city. Quickly I found out that there was no question. I had been bitten, feasted upon rather, by an American Dog Tick that looked nothing like any tick I had ever seen because it was fully engorged (with my blood). Even though I had not used the proper method of removing a tick (tweezers between the tick’s head and your skin so you don’t leave any mouth parts in you) it was probably OK my friend said–when they’ve eaten, they fall off you anyway, but you don’t want to wait for that to happen! I could see its mouth parts attached to it and not me.
The only place I could have possibly picked it up was my own back yard. I’ve lived here in Central Ohio 24 years and never SEEN a tick let alone been bitten by one on my property. When I camp or walk in the woods or tall grasses I do check myself–never had a problem. My friend said this has been a particularly bad year, and probably would continue to be for at least the next month or so. He said he found them in his yard as well.
So, the first thing is if you are outdoors even around your home, you may want to check yourself if you are in an area where ticks are prevalent. I understand they like places like my waist or the back of the neck. Generally, they crawl up your clothes to these places so check your clothing.
Second, know how to remove a tick properly–a pair of tweezers between your skin and the tick’s head is the best method. Save the tick if at all possible in case you have subsequent symptoms. Put it in a dampened paper towel and seal it in a zip lock bag and put it in your fridge. This should keep it alive in case you need to get it identified and tested.
Third, the scary part is that even the everyday American Dog Tick can carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (the figure I heard is that less than 2 percent of them do–but still) as well as other diseases. Untreated, it can kill you and there have been cases in Central Ohio. So I downloaded the CDC fact sheet (see link above) and have watched for symptoms, which start with high fever, achiness and headaches. Then a rash forms on wrists and ankles and spreads. The bacteria can damage internal organs if untreated. Treatment is with doxycycline, and the sooner the better. Symptoms appear in 2 to 14 days (I’m on day 10 as I write and still feeling OK at present–say a prayer that I stay that way!).
Of course there is also Lyme Disease which is transmitted by black-legged ticks. This is a backyard danger for those living near wooded areas as well. Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial and I know friends who have not been able to clear this infection which becomes chronic and debilitating.
So the point is not to hide out in your house, but to take precautions. Cut down any high grasses (we didn’t have any however). Daily check your pets and yourself. Prompt and proper removal is key–it can take up to a day for a tick to infect you. When in the woods, wear light colored clothing, tuck pants legs into socks and check yourself any time you could be exposed–or check each other!