To most people ticks are disgusting. These tiny, crawling things are not insects but are relatives of spiders, scorpions and mites. They have four pairs of legs and lack an antennae. Part of the reason they are disgusting is that they require a blood meal to survive. They don’t jump or fly. They crawl up low bushes or grass in search of their victim. Then they clasp on with their back legs and reach up their front legs to grab onto a passing victim. Dogs are easy targets as are children. They can detect their victims by breath, body odors, body heat and vibrations.
Ticks have four life stages: egg, larva, nymph and adult and must have a blood meal (new victim) at each stage. Ticks are adapted to feed for long periods of time. They bury their curved teeth deeply into the skin of the victim and can remain securely attached for days to eat. Ticks insert their feeding tube and some species secrete a cement-like substance that keeps them firmly attached. They also can secrete small amounts of saliva with anesthetic properties so the victim can’t feel the attachment. As they slowly suck the blood they will ingest whatever blood infection the victim may have. An important point is that small amounts of saliva from the tick may also enter the skin of the victim and transmit whatever disease it has picked up. It typically requires 24-48 hours of feeding before they can successfully transmit infections like Lyme disease. So prompt removal is crucial. (See below)
Lyme disease is not common in Texas but is the most common insect transmitted disease in the US. Of concern is that the tick that carries Lyme disease has now been found in more than a quarter of the counties in Texas. However Lyme disease is only one of several tick-borne diseases found in Texas. Others reported are Ehrlichiosis, spotted fever, Tularemia and tick-borne relapsing fever.
Most tick bites are harmless. If walking or playing in a known tick-infested areas, wear long clothing and tuck pants into socks. Permethrin-containing sprays applied to clothing are the most effective repellents for ticks. Permethrin is not for putting on the skin as it loses effectiveness on skin. Skin applied repellents can also help such as 30% DEET which works for about 6 hours.
To remove a tick grasp close to head with tweezers or protected fingers and pull straight out. If the tick is very small, scrap it off with something like a credit card. The sooner the better. If the tick’s head breaks off remove any large parts and clean with rubbing alcohol. Wash the bite and your hands with soap and water.
Do not use nail polish, petroleum jelly or heat to detach the tick from the skin. Heat and suffocating jellies may actually stimulate the tick to salivate increasing the risk of infection.
Call your doctor if there is a rash or fever in the next 4 weeks.
For more information, please look at the CDC site
by Sally Robinson, MD Clinical Professor
Keeping Kids Healthy
UTMB Pediatrics - Pediatric Primary Care
UTMB After Hours Urgent Care