That's not a mole. That's a tick
8/12/2021 by Joshua Luciew, P.A.-C.
Tick bites tend to happen when least expected. It's important to know that some tick bites can cause an illness called Lyme disease. In the U.S., infected blacklegged deer ticks are the most common type of tick bite to cause this illness.
However, to develop Lyme disease, several things are considered:
Where in the U.S. did the bite occur?
The chances of your tick bite causing Lyme disease depends on where in the U.S. the bite occurred. Not all ticks are infected with the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. To help you understand if your tick bite has a high chance of carrying the disease-causing bacteria, check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's information on Lyme disease. Their map will show you which states have a high incidence of the disease. If your tick bite occurs in one of these high-incidence states, you have a higher risk of developing Lyme disease.
How long was the tick attached to your body?
If an infected tick is attached to your body for more than 36 hours, it could put you at higher risk of developing Lyme disease. However, if the tick is attached to your body for less than 36 hours, you have a lower chance of developing the disease.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
If an infected tick is not removed early enough, Lyme disease can develop. The symptoms of Lyme disease are broad, and they can change depending on how long you were infected.
If infected for three to 30 days:
- You may notice a gradually expanding targetlike rash at the site of the tick bite. This occurs in most but not all patients.
- Flu-like symptoms also can occur, including a new headache, fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, muscle aches or joint aches.
If left untreated, more significant symptoms can develop:
- More targetlike rashes on your body.
- Severe joint pain that can move to different joints.
- Inflammation of the heart that can cause palpitations or chest pain.
- Inflammation of the covering of your brain and spinal cord that can cause a stiff neck, headache and fever.
- Weakness of the muscles on one side of your face, which is caused by a condition known as Bell's Palsy.
How is Lyme disease diagnosed?
If you think you have Lyme disease, your health care provider should evaluate you. Sometimes the disease can be diagnosed based off your history and physical examination. Blood tests can diagnose Lyme disease when conducted 10-14 days after the initial bite. If blood tests are performed too soon, the results can sometimes be falsely negative.
How is Lyme disease treated?
Your health care provider can treat you with antibiotics if he or she feels you would benefit from treatment for Lyme disease. Ideally, try to see your health care provider within 72 hours of the bite to see if you would benefit from a preventive antibiotic treatment.
How can you prevent a tick bite?
If you spend time in wooded or grassy areas, take extra precaution to avoid a tick bite with these preventive measures:
- Wear bright-colored, long-sleeved shirts, with long pants tucked into your socks. Wear closed-toe shoes. This helps prevent ticks from attaching to your skin.
- To stay cool and protected from the sun ― and from ticks ― wear sun-protective clothing.
- Apply permethrin to your clothing or purchase pretreated permethrin clothing. Do not apply permethrin directly to your skin. If you use permethrin clothing or gear, be sure to follow the product packaging labels for directions and precautions.
- Apply an Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellent containing DEET to your skin to help repel ticks. Be sure to follow package instructions.
- Carefully inspect your body, clothes, pets and children after spending time outdoors.
- Shower with a washcloth as soon as you come indoors for the day. This is a good time to inspect your entire body for signs of ticks.
- If you identify a tick, remove it as soon as possible. Use a tweezers and grasp it as close to the mouth as possible. Carefully pull away from your body and dispose of it in isopropyl alcohol to kill it. Place the tick in a bag and bring it to your health care provider for it to be examined. Be sure to clean the bite area with soap and water after removal. If you do not feel comfortable removing the tick, make an appointment with your medical provider for assistance.
- If you remove a tick from your body – or if you think you have encountered a tick bite ― call your medical provider.
Joshua Luciew, P.A.-C., is a physician assistant in the Department of Family Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. He practices at Mayo Family Clinic Southeast.