By: Sasha Klemawesch, MD
It used to be that you only had to worry about ticks in certain parts of the country and during certain times of the year. However (at the risk of mentioning any potentially “politically charged” content), climate change has not only prolonged tick season, but has also changed the geographic distribution of various bites.
Depending where you live in the country, a variety of ticks abound, leading to various infections endemic to each area. For the most part, as long as you remove the tick promptly, there is little chance of incurring any diseases from it. In fact, EM doctors are taught that if the tick is removed within 72 hours of the bite (or before it becomes engorged w blood), then there is no need for antibiotics.
We are seeing more and more ticks in Florida. If you are planning to go hiking or otherwise be tromping through preserves and grassy areas, one of the easiest ways to avoid getting bitten is to wear long sleeves and pants. When you come in from your day in nature, check all over your body to make sure there are no ticks on you. If you find one, use tweezers to grasp it as close to the skin as possible. Gently pull, straight up, perpendicular away from the skin, with slow steady traction, until it comes off. Do not smash it. Do not burn it. Do not smother it in petroleum jelly.
If you want to save it, you could, so that in the unlikely event that you were to go on to develop any rashes or symptoms, then it could be used to facilitate ID, but it really is not necessary in Florida. The ticks we have here almost never carry the more dangerous diseases that do occur elsewhere in the US such as Babesiosis or Powassan virus.
Even if you get bitten when you are out West, up in the Great Lakes, or New England, as long as you remove it right away, you are still almost certain to be just fine. The one exception to that rule is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. This would be the one time I would suggest possibly going to an urgent care if you were bitten. While the name makes you think you’d get it in Colorado, the 6 most common states to see it are actually Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. If you got bit by a tick in any of those areas, it would be prudent to get checked and possibly start prophylactic antibiotics. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be fatal if untreated, and it is the one tick-borne illness that the tick can transmit in a few hours and before it becomes engorged by blood. Since Doxycycline came on the market, the fatality rates have plummeted, and nowadays if you start treatment early it is still a very curable disease. The CDC is a great resource if you are interested in reading more about Tick Borne Illnesses.