Ticks are tiny insects: At less than 3/8-inch long, they are smaller than the end of a pencil. But when they bite a person or animal to feed on the blood, they can swell up to become as big as a large grape. But even though its bite can be very dangerous, you are unlikely to feel it crawling across your skin or gorging on on your blood! So how do you know if you have a tick, or if you are bitten by a tick?
And what should you do? Read on!
In fact, people often don't realize that they or their pets have been bitten unless the tick is seen after it is swelled up and attached to their skin or lying on the ground. Or until the signs or symptoms of a transmitted disease begin to be felt.
Ticks can vary in size, comparable to the two ends of a pencil - some may be as large as the eraser, while others are as small as the lead tip. So it can be difficult to see if a tick is present, much less feel its bite. In addition, it is not only the adult ticks that can bite and spread disease; ticks in the immature stages also can.
Ticks Spread Disease
One of the most dangerous ticks is also the smallest: the deer tick (also called the black-legged tick), which is found across the northeastern and upper midwestern United States. Even when fully engorged from feeding, the deer tick is only 1/4 mm - approximately 1/100th of an inch.
This tick carries and transmits the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, which can have very serious health effects if not caught and treated early.
Other diseases that can result from a tick bite include ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.
However, according to WebMD, most ticks do not carry diseases, so you are unlikely to have serious health issues if you are bitten.
But it is still very important to remove a tick as soon as you find it because you cannot know if that tick is infected or not. The sooner you remove the tip, the more likely you are to prevent the potential of illness from a disease-carrying tick. This is because a tick generally needs to be embedded in the skin for at least 24 hours to transmit a disease.
How to Remove a Tick
To remove a tick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a 3-step process:
- With tweezers, grasp the tick as close as possible to the surface of the person's or animal's skin's (which it is biting).
- Pull up steadily and evenly. Don't twist or jerk the tick. If you do, the tick's mouth can break off from its body and stay embedded in the skin. If that does happen, use the tweezers to remove the mouth-parts as well. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- Once the tick is removed, clean the area around the bite, your hands, and the tweezers. Use rubbing alcohol, iodine, or soap and water.
If a person bitten by a tick develops a rash or fever at any time, even several weeks after removing the tick, CDC advises that he or she see a doctor.
Tell the doctor about the bite, and when and where it most likely occurred.
Tick-Borne Disease Symptoms
The CDC also notes that most tick-borne diseases have similar signs and symptoms, with the most common being fever and chills, aches and pains, and rash.
Symptoms can also become more severe, even requiring hospitalization. But the sooner a disease is recognized and treated, the less likely there are to be serious complications. So if you are bitten by a tick and experience any adverse symptoms, you should immediately see your doctor. (See more detailed symptoms from the CDC.)