So you’ve been bitten by a tick and you don’t know what to do next. Should you go to the doctor to get on antibiotics? Don’t Panic! The risk of catching lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses is relatively low, but that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. Contact your healthcare provider and find out his recommended course of action.
Do I Need Antibiotics After a Tick Bite? The CDC does not recommend taking antibiotics after tick bites. You should only go on antibiotics after symptoms appear. Talk to your doctor if you live in an area where Lyme Disease is common. In certain circumstances they’ll recommend a single dose of doxycycline to reduce the risk of Lyme Disease and Other Tick-borne illness.
What other symptoms should I look for if I’ve been bitten by a tick? In the rest of this article I’ll explain how to find ticks, check for symptoms and explain when you should be treated with antibiotics.
Should I Take Antibiotics After a Tick Bite?
Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to Lyme Disease and other tick borne illnesses. The risk of infection is low if you find and remove a tick within the first 24-36 hours (some experts say 48 hours).
Unfortunately, sometimes you’ll miss a tick allowing him to feed, passing on bacteria and other tickborne diseases. That’s when you might need to see a doctor.
If a person is bitten by a tick a healthcare provider will usually take one of the following approaches.
- Tell you to observe the bite and keep an eye out for signs/symptoms of infection. Watch for redness, irritation, swelling, and fever.
- Treat with a preventitive antibiotic immediately if you live in areas with a high risk of Lyme Disease.
There’s no way to tell if you’ve caught anything within the first few days after getting bitten. Even a blood test for Lyme Disease will come back negative unless you wait a few weeks. You would have to wait at least 2 and sometimes up to 6 weeks to see a positive blood test result.
When Should I See a Doctor After a Tick Bite?
Before seeking medical attention make sure you safely remove the tick. There are a bunch of specialized tools for removing ticks, but you probably already have a pair of tweezers in your bathroom cabinet. Continue reading below for video/written instructions explaining how to remove ticks.
I bought a little tool called a Tick Key, because my dogs wouldn’t allow me to use tweezers on them. After pulling a few out of my dogs fur I realized it was much easier to use than the tweezers.
Once the tick has been removed it’s time to assess the situation. Your physician should be able to review the description of the tick with any of your physical symptoms. He will most likely tell you to observe the bite area and only come in if you spot signs of infection.
The CDC only recommends immediate treatment with antibiotics if it was a Deer Tick, attached for more than 36 hours, in an area known for Lyme Disease, and you can get a single dose of Doxycycline within 72 hours of tick removal. They recommend waiting for symptoms to show if you don’t meet all of those criteria.
How Can I Tell How Long The Tick Was Attached?
Figuring out how long a tick was attached can be tricky. Only ticks that are attached and have finished feeding or are near the end of their meal can transmit lyme disease.
A tick that isn’t attached, is easy to remove or is just walking on your skin, couldn’t have transferred lyme disease. If he’s flat and tiny without much in its body you have nothing to worry about.
They will latch on and use their hyposteme to dig into the top layer of your skin. Ticks can’t burrow completely under your skin so you should see a fat tick butt sticking out.
You might still be in the clear even if the tick has attached. It takes 24 hours for a tick to start feeding and at least 36-48 hours for them to start spreading the bacterium that causes Lyme Disease. If the tick is engorged with blood it’s a safe bet that he’s been feeding for more than 36 hours.
Monitoring For Lyme Disease
People are really confused when it comes to Lyme disease. They think that Lyme disease is untreatable if antibiotics aren’t given early. This is completely untrue. It might be harder to treat Lyme Disease in later stages, but you can still be treated with the appropriate antibiotics.
Any person that’s bitten by a tick needs to observe the bite area for a few weeks watching for patches of expanding redness. About 80% of people that acquire Lyme disease will develop a rash within the first month (usually a week).
Look for the telltale bullseye rash (pictured above). That’s a definite sign of Lyme disease and you should visit a doctor immediately for antibiotics.
You should also watch out for fevers and other signs of infection. Lyme disease isn’t the only type of infection you can get from a tick. Any disease that a ticks previous host was carrying can be passed on. Imagine what you can pick up if the tick previously fed on rats, deer, raccoons, opossums, etc.
Finding and Removing Ticks
Preventing and removing ticks early is crucial to minimizing the risk of catching a tick borne illness. Check your body for ticks whenever traveling through tall grass, hiking, or spending time outside.
I think it’s easiest to check for ticks when taking a shower. A shower can wash off unattached ticks and makes it easier to feel and spot ticks since you’re not wearing clothes.
Ticks can bite anywhere, but the image above shows the most common areas. Ask a friend to check hard to see areas and use your hands to feel for attached ticks. They feel like a hard lump about the size of a match head.
What if I find a tick? Don’t Worry! They’re easy to remove. You can either use a specialized tool like a Tick Key or watch the following video to remove them using regular old tweezers.
- Use fine tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible.
- Grab it and pull up with steady even pressure trying not to twist or smash the tick. Don’t worry if a piece of the ticks mouth is still lodged in your skin. There will be minor risk of infection, but it should fall off over the next week or so.
- Use soap and water or rubbing alcohol to clean the bite area.
- Dispose of the tick by flushing it down the toilet, pouring rubbing alcohol on it, or sandwiching it in tape. Never squish a tick using your fingers.
- Observe the area over the next few weeks and call a doctor if you see signs of infection. He will put you on oral antibiotics and you should be good to go.