As the summer air warms up and people begin to venture outdoors out of home hibernation, so comes our familiar parasitic foe, the tick.

It is not surprising during the summer months that outpatient offices and urgent cares alike receive a barrage of messages and appointments from concerned patients regarding bug bites with a variety of rashes that ensue. So let’s address some of the primary concerns nature-loving folk have regarding tick bites and particularly their relation to Lyme disease.

Among the public, Lyme disease is often treated synonymously with a tick bite. However, not all ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

The Ixodes scapularis tick, or Deer tick, is the insect that carries the spirochete bacteria called Borellia burgdorferi. This bacteria lives in the salivary glands of around 20 percent of these ticks and is transmitted into humans through the tick bite. Humans act as a terminal host, as the bacteria cannot be passed from person to person following an infection.

Often, if a patient finds a tick on them, physicians will not treat it unless the tick has been embedded in the individual for greater than 36 hours, as the transmission of the bacteria is relatively slow.

Lyme disease presents in numerous ways, often with vague symptoms like fatigue, joint pain, or headaches. Despite popular belief, the classic “bullseye” rash seen from a tick bite with Lyme disease is relatively uncommon.

It’s only present in around 25% of all localized Lyme disease, usually occurring 5-10 days after the bite. Therefore, bites often will present with surrounding redness and scabbing at the bite location, but will typically not have a bullseye appearance.

Since the deer tick is endemic throughout the state, physicians take extra caution for coverage. So if you notice a tick bite within three days of occurrence, you may qualify for an antibiotic dose to prevent the off-chance of Lyme disease. A prolonged antibiotic course is not discussed unless a patient is exhibiting symptoms of Lyme, or they are out of the window of initial prophylactic treatment.

From a prevention standpoint, there are many ways people can avoid tick bites. First of all, it is essential to dress for the occasion. If camping up in the north woods or hiking off trail, it might be time to break out the new hiking pants and a long sleeve shirt for additional coverage.

If you are spending a prolonged time in the great outdoors, check yourself routinely for ticks. They often settle in warm, moist areas of the body including hair, groin and skin folds.

Also, don’t forget about your four-legged friends, as dogs can also acquire Lyme disease through tick bites. In fact, I was prompted to write this article when I had the pleasure of removing 20-plus ticks off my pups following a recent trip into the woods!

Ticks are obviously no fun, but they should not deter you from exploring the beautiful outdoors and enjoying the long summer days to come.

Jake Starsiak, DO is a second-year resident at UW Health Family Medicine-Verona.

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