I want you to create a Tick Kit.
Yes, that’s right. A Tick Kit.
I may be a tad obsessed, but I prefer the word “aware.” I’m aware because it’s real. It can happen to anyone, anywhere, any age. And it is hell. A daily, living hell. If you are close to someone who has battled Lyme disease, you get it. You’ve seen that world, and you don’t want any part of it. You aren’t the person I need to persuade. You may skip the pleading in the next couple paragraphs.
I’m talking to the person whose little voice inside their head is whispering, We don’t live in an endemic area. We aren’t outdoorsy people. I am a healthy person. I eat right and exercise regularly. I’ve never found a deer tick on me or my child.
These excuses are invalid. Healthy people who don’t partake in outdoor activities, like camping or kayaking, and who live right here where you live have been diagnosed with Lyme disease.
Or maybe you are thinking, I use a tick repellent. I check my kids regularly. We wear light-colored pants when in the woods. We shower as soon as we get home.
That’s great! I’m so thankful you are taking precautions.
But keep reading.
Let’s imagine you notice a piece of black fuzz on your child. No big deal, right? Upon closer examination, you realize that the speck is actually a tick. It’s tiny — a fraction of the size of a wood tick. Time is critical.
Every second that tick feeds on your child’s blood, it is potentially injecting them with Lyme, Babesia, Bartonella or other co-infections. Ticks usually don’t just have one infection. Tick-borne infections are zoonotic — meaning they are passed from animals to humans. “Vectors” like ticks, mosquitos, and fleas transmit the diseases from animals like mice, rats, and squirrels to humans when they bite. Ticks can carry many bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoans all at the same time and transmit them in a single bite. They carry the infections passed on to them from their parents and those of every animal they’ve ever fed on. There are so many co-infections, in fact, that scientists still don’t even know them all!
What do you do?
There’s no need to panic. You’ve read about tick removal before. While you take a minute or so to find this blog post or to Google instructions, the tick continues to feed. While you look for tweezers, the tick continues to feed. The clock is ticking. No pun intended. What do you do?
You need a Tick Kit. The contents are simple: a pair of tweezers, alcohol swabs, a couple index cards or Post-it notes, a Sharpie, and some clear tape tossed together in a Ziploc bag. That’s it. You probably already have these items in your home, right?
But do you know exactly where to find them? If your house is like mine, tweezers seem to disappear periodically only to return two or three at once a few weeks later. Would you have to race to multiple rooms in your house to locate these essentials? While you are searching, the tick continues to feed.
I discovered these handy-dandy tweezers designed specifically for tick removal. I’ve used them twice this year to remove ticks, and they are ideal. Any tweezers will work, of course, but the thin tip makes this the perfect tool for removing ticks, especially from the scalp, without leaving any part of the tick in your child’s body.
Please make a Tick Kit. Heck, make two. Prepare one kit for your home and one for your vehicle, especially if you’re traveling this summer. Seriously. Go. Come back and read the rest of this once your kit is together.
All right, so what do you do with that tick? (By the way, please don’t skim over this section. Don’t wait until you need it, because just like a scavenger hunt for Tick Kit items, you’ll be wasting precious time.)
1. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers.
Avoid folklore remedies, such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible — not to wait for it to detach. There is much “talk” online about putting peppermint oil on the tick. No, no, no. Sure, it will back out, but not before regurgitating back into the skin, which is exactly the opposite of our goal!
3. Tape the tick to an index card or Post-it note. Write the date, time, and location. If symptoms would later arise, this quick document will help doctors determine the type of tick, number of days since initial bite, etc. (I do this for all ticks, not just deer ticks.)
4. Clean the bite area thoroughly with rubbing alcohol.
Okay, so we’ve removed the tick, cleaned the site, and logged the event on an index card. Now what?
Monitor the site and the patient closely. Symptoms are generally not immediate and can present 3 to 30 days from the initial bite. Symptoms are often flu-like — fever, muscle aches, headache — and/or a “bullseye” rash. You do not have to have the rash to have Lyme disease, nor do you have to have every symptom. These are dangerous misconceptions.
You also have the ability now to send the tick off to be tested. Sending the Laboratory of Medical Zoology of the University of Massachusetts your tick(s) allows scientific researchers to gather data about ticks from all over the United States. Scientists can broaden their investigations into tick populations and glean information on the current distribution of the major tick vectors and the prevalence of tick-borne pathogens that people encounter in different locations. By sending them your tick(s), you are participating in a citizen science project and national tick-collection/testing effort which will enable these scientists to compare past and potential future distributions of ticks and tick-borne disease. The hope is that by collecting this data, we may be able to predict where risk of disease is most common.
Testing ticks is easy: Visit www.TickReport.com and follow instructions to receive your tick order number. Then place your tick in a zippered plastic bag and label it with your order number. Mail the labeled tick to the Laboratory of Medical Zoology, 270 Stockbridge Rd., University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003. Results will be sent to you in 3-5 business days. Ticks Tests are not intended to be a substitute for disease testing in humans, nor should the results be interpreted as providing a diagnosis. A TickReport can provide a measure of risk to be shared with your healthcare provider. Personal information on your TickReport is kept in strict confidence, but the results of your tick test are made publicly available for people to see where ticks are found, when they are biting people, and what disease-causing microbes they are transmitting.
Someone asked me once what I would do if I found a deer tick embedded in my daughter’s skin. I answered without hesitation. I would take her to the nearest urgent care and request treatment for Lyme disease. After the years of pain I’ve been through, I would rather be overly cautious, giving my child one round of potentially unnecessary antibiotics, than to be hesitant, providing Lyme spirochetes more time to infiltrate her cells, tissues, joints, heart, and brain. Research has shown early antibiotics are consistently effective in treating Lyme, particularly when treatment begins within the first 30 days of infection. To me, a round of doxycycline is worth the minimal risk, comparatively speaking.
Of course, this would be after I’d used my Tick Kit to remove the deer tick, clean the area, and document the incident.
Think about it this way. We actively prepare for most negative events in our lives — life insurance, car insurance, flood insurance, home insurance, health insurance. Planning does not mean we want our house to flood or our teenage son to get into a fender-bender or our husband to spend an evening in the ER. We hope we never need to use our insurance, but we pay our premiums — just in case.
Talking about it and preparing for it makes us responsible.
So do me a favor: Go grab a Ziploc bag and throw together a little tick insurance. Once you get it put together, snap a picture and share it at #tickinsurance. Show me you’re listening and protecting your family by putting together a Tick Kit.
Just in case.