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Written by The Dr. is In   


I guess there are worse things than ticks; but blood-sucking parasites that stick to you like super-glue? That’s pretty high up on my list of just plain evil.

Ticks prefer warmer weather and tend to hang out (no pun intended) in wooded, grassy, or brushy areas. They can transmit (be “vectors” for) at least 10 different infectious agents which cause human disease. Animals like deer and mice are “reservoirs” for these microbes which are then ingested by ticks and spread to other animals, including us humans.

The most infamous illness related to ticks is Lyme Disease, caused by a germ called Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted by the western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus). Only about 1–3% of these ticks carry the Lyme disease germ and the risk of disease transmission is related to the duration of feeding (how long the tick is on you). Under 36 hours, the risk is low.

There are an estimated 20,000 cases of Lyme disease in the U.S (see www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/lyme/ld_incidence.htm) yearly, however, California is considered a low-risk area (see map @ www.aldf.com/RiskMap/california/california.shtml). The Santa Cruz County Health Department reported 24 confirmed cases from 2005 through 2009. However, extensive publicity and a high frequency of misdiagnosis has resulted in public anxiety out of proportion to the actual problem.

The first sign of Lyme disease is an expanding red area up to 2 inches wide around the bite within days to a few weeks. Fever, headache, joint and muscle aches may also occur early or with the next stage which may include a spreading rash, neurologic and cardiac problems, and arthritis (joint swelling). Late stage Lymes is mostly recurrent arthritis. Diagnosis is mostly “clinical”, based on observed symptoms and signs since antibodies aren’t present in the bloodstream for the first weeks. Testing thereafter is a two-step process, because of a high “false-positive” rate.

Treatment is with antibiotics orally for early-stage disease, and IV for late stage. Prevention obviously means avoiding tick bites in the first place – wearing long pants and tucking cuffs into the socks - doing a thorough inspection after hiking or camping, and removing attached ticks as soon as possible. Removal is best done with a small tweezers, getting under the tick as close to the head as possible, gently grasping it and pulling directly up and out. An unscrewing motion, alcohol, nail polish remover, and hot matches aren’t recommended.

Treating every single tick bite in the absence of any symptoms is not recommended, especially since the incidence of Lyme disease is so low in this area. Keeping the tick and having it tested if symptoms appear is an option.


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Healthy Kidz Doc is written by a board-certified pediatrician who's practiced in Santa Cruz County since 1986. www.healthykidzdoc.yourmd.com


  Nix those Ticks

 
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