Ticks are small arachnids that feed on the blood of rodents, rabbits, birds, deer, dogs, and people. A tick bite may cause redness, itching, and slight swelling at the site. Sometimes you may have no reaction where the tick bit you.
Ticks transmit disease when microbes in their saliva get into your skin and blood. There are over 800 species of ticks. But only two families of ticks, hard ticks and soft ticks, are known to transmit diseases to humans. Ticks often transmit a disease near the end of a meal. The hard ticks tend to attach and feed for hours to days. It may take hours before a hard tick transmits microbes. Soft ticks often feed for less than 1 hour and can transmit diseases quickly. The bites themselves aren’t cause for concern. But ticks can carry and pass on 12 different illnesses. These include Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Symptoms of tick-related diseases vary depending on the disease. The most common symptoms are:
- Aches and pains such as headache, extreme tiredness (fatigue), and muscle aches
- Joint pain (with Lyme disease)
How to remove a tick
Not all ticks carry disease. A tick attached to you anywhere from minutes to days may infect you, depending on the type of tick and the germs it carries. If you find a tick, don’t panic.
- Try to carefully remove the tick with tweezers.
- Grasp the tick near its head as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull without twisting and don’t crush the body.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
- Put a live tick in alcohol, or in a sealed bag or container, or flush it down the toilet.
When to get medical care
If you can’t easily remove the tick or if you leave the head in your skin, get medical care right away.
Tick paralysis is a rare disease thought to be caused by a toxin in tick saliva. The symptoms include:
If you or someone bitten by a tick has these symptoms, get medical care right away. Removing the tick stops the symptoms in about 24 hours.
If you have a rash or fever within a few weeks of removing a tick, see your healthcare provider. Tell the provider about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.
- To prevent disease, you may be given antibiotics. Both Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever respond quickly to these medicines.
- You may be asked to see your healthcare provider for a blood test. This is to check for Lyme or another tick-related disease.
Some states and counties have services that test ticks for Lyme disease and other diseases. Check with your local officials to see if this service is available in your area.
If you remove a tick yourself, watch for signs of a tick-borne illness. Symptoms may show up in a few days or weeks after a bite. Call your healthcare provider if you notice any of the following:
- Rash. This may spread outward in a ring from a hard, white lump. Or it may move up your arms and legs to your chest.
- Body aches, joint swelling, and pain
- Severe headache