PEI

What to do when you're bitten by a tick: 7 steps

P.E.I.'s Chief Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison offered her tips for what anyone should do when bitten by a tick.

'I didn't think these Lyme disease carrying scum were native to P.E.I.'

Deer ticks like this one can carry the organisms that cause Lyme disease. (CDC/Reuters)

When Logan Roche of Stratford, P.E.I. woke up one Monday morning two weeks ago with a "deer tick chewing on my leg," he was not happy. 

"I didn't think these Lyme disease carrying scum were native to P.E.I.," he wrote in a post on Facebook. "But there he was."

P.E.I.'s Chief Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison offered her tips for what anyone should do when bitten by a tick.

1. Don't panic, you likely don't have Lyme 

While Roche said he was tempted to "walk around the house screaming obscenities and asking 'Why me?'" Morrison said, there's usually no need to panic over a tick bite. 

Bug spray, long pants in tall grass, and the big one — check your skin when you go inside.— Logan Roche

P.E.I. has only had one lab-confirmed case of Lyme disease from a deer tick — ever. That was back in 2012.

Last year Island doctors saw one lab-confirmed and three probable cases of Lyme, but those people had been exposed outside P.E.I., Morrison said. 

There are several kinds of ticks, and only deer ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme, said Morrison. Not only are most ticks on P.E.I. not deer ticks, Morrison noted, "P.E.I. is not endemic for deer ticks with Lyme disease."

Deer ticks require incubation of 24 to 36 hours to cause an infection — most people discover and remove them long before that deadline.

Additionally, the tick itself may or may not be infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme. 

2. Carefully remove tick

The longer ticks are attached, the deeper they can burrow under skin and the greater the chances of infection. 

Logan Roche of Stratford, P.E.I., found this hitchhiker on his leg one morning after a weekend of outdoor fun, and did the right thing — he carefully removed it, (Submitted by Logan Roche)

Roche did the proper thing: he grabbed clean tweezers and gently pulled on the tick until it popped out. 

"I just Googled 'how to remove a tick' because that's how millennials solve all their problems," he said. 

Morrison has sent all P.E.I. health care providers an annual update on Lyme disease along with Health Canada's guidelines for tick removal

"The whole goal is not to squash them," noted Morrison, especially the head of the tick. 

"You want to minimize the risk of having any potential organisms left in your body — that's how you get Lyme disease." 

3. Save the tick

Save the tick in a baggie, pill bottle or plastic dish and label it with the date of the bite, and take it to your doctor who will send it off to a lab for testing, which can take up to a week. 

4. Wash the area

Thoroughly wash the bite area and your hands with soap and water or disinfect with alcohol hand sanitizer. 

5. Go to the doctor

Take the tick, and yourself, to the doctor. 

Prevention is key, stresses Dr. Heather Morrison, P.E.I.'s chief public health officer. (CBC News: Compass)

They may offer you a prophylactic treatment of antibiotics, but if the tick has been attached for only a short time, Morrison stresses there is no need.

"He prescribed me a week worth of antibiotics," said Roche of his doctor. "I saw my family doctor to get a second opinion on whether a one-week dose of antibiotics would be enough. They both agreed that it was an appropriate treatment." 

6. Be aware of Lyme symptoms

Symptoms of Lyme disease include an early "localized" infection at the site of the bite within three to 32 days.

A tick bite may leave a bullseye-shaped rash on the skin up to a month after the bite. (CBC)

If untreated, within three months the bacterium causing Lyme can spread in the bloodstream throughout the body, causing symptoms including fatigue, weakness, heart problems, neurological problems and more. 

Late Lyme disease can last months or years, and symptoms include several types of arthritis, neurological problems with memory and concentration, and more. 

7. Prevention is key

This tip should be a priority, said Morrison. 

"Cover up if there's a possibility of exposure," she advised. "Closed-toed shoes, long-sleeve shirts and pants with legs tucked into socks" if you're going to be in long grass or wooded areas. Wear light-coloured clothing and use bug spray too, she said. 

"Daily full-body checks for ticks should be performed," Morrison added. 

Roche, who is a physical education teacher and likes to be active outdoors, said he's definitely going to attempt better tick bite prevention.

"DEET bug spray, long pants in tall grass, and the big one — check your skin when you go inside," said Roche. "Just use common sense, be aware, get outside and enjoy your life."

Concerned about a tick you've found on a pet? Morrison notes many vet clinics are also accepting ticks for testing. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a bachelor of journalism (honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email sara.fraser@cbc.ca

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