Think I caught two ticks hitching a ride on me.
May 30, 2013 6:24 PM   Subscribe

Last week my car broke down while driving down a road through farm land.

While outside of the car, I stood in some very tall grass on the steep hill between the road and the farm field. Later that night after getting the car problem resolved and when I was back home, I noticed two little red spots on the inside of my arm just above the wrist. It looked like a very small vampire had bitten me. The little red spots were very small and about a half centimeter apart. I thought I must have brushed my arm on some sharp metal on the car and thought nothing more about it, until...

The next day, I thought, Hmm.... maybe I should take a closer look at those spots (they hadn't seemed to get any bigger, and they didn't bother me, but I thought I'd grab a magnifying glass to see what I could see).

Horror of horrors! Through the magnifying glass I see what looks like a tick body with sections of legs dug into my skin at the center of each of the red spots. Whatever they were, they were brownish to black with almost a bit of a dark green shade to them.

I've never been bitten by anything more "serious" than a mosquito, so, I freaked out, lit a cigarette, and proceeded to place the lit cigarette over each red spot hoping to effectively "nuke" the little bastards and the area surrounding each of them. I waited for the skin to bubble up, and I scraped the little tick-like things away. Ick!

I then washed my new burns with anti-bacterial soap and applied some antibiotic cream and then band aids.

This was almost a week ago. Am I likely to get a tick borne disease from this? Lyme disease and that other strange thing that makes the person intolerant of meat scare the crap out of me. I've replaced the band aids and antibiotic cream each day, and the burns seem to be slowly healing. Also I have no symptoms like a fever or anything else.

Do I need to do anything more like contact my doctor or head to the quick care or ER?

I know you are not a doctor, and I will not take any replies as medical advice.

posted by InsertNiftyNameHere to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This recent article may not leave you totally comforted, but you will be more informed. It's really interesting.
posted by ella wren at 6:28 PM on May 30, 2013

For future reference, the best way to remove a tick is to grasp it firmly with tweezers and pull it out. That way you won't have a burn mark that is going to interfere with your ability to monitor the site for a rash.

Was the tick there for more than 24 hrs? Generally, if we pull a tick out within a few hours of getting bit (and we know how long it was because we always do a tick check upon coming in from tick-bite situations), we don't think much of it. If I were to develop a fever or a rash at the site, I would see a doctor about it. I have also requested a Lyme test, because I have some arthritis at a young age and wanted to rule that out.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:29 PM on May 30, 2013

You'll be fine. Next time, just douse them in rubbing alcohol - they'll usually let go. Or just pull them off with tweezers. Giving yourself cigarette burns to get rid of them is ... slightly overkill.
posted by jferg at 6:29 PM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah once they get a bite of you there is a good chance that any transmissible disease they carry would be presented to your immune system for processing.
Please do not remove ticks in the way you did in future. Most species of tick buries it's head/mouthparts into skin, just grasp firmly behind "shoulders" and steady slow pull. Do not burn them off. Do not squish.
posted by bebrave! at 6:32 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tweezers, as close to the skin as possible, is the best way.

Burning them or suffocating them with jelly or other such potions is a great way to get them to barf anything they might be carrying into you.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:34 PM on May 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Go see a doctor, not in the emergency room, but tomorrow during office hours. If you have been exposed, early treatment is a short course of antibiotics. Simple.
posted by lulu68 at 6:46 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah once they get a bite of you there is a good chance that any transmissible disease they carry would be presented to your immune system for processing.

Generally speaking diseases like Lyme require a tick to be on you for a considerable amount of time. The CDC says "In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36-48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted." So unless you were in an area where Lyme is really at epidemic levels, you are probably safe and don't need further medical care. Familiarize yourself with warning signs and learn how to get rid of ticks more effectively in the future.
posted by jessamyn at 6:46 PM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

For future reference, the thing you're supposed to do with cigarettes or matches is light them, blow them out, and press them against the tick. The smoke or the heat (not sure which) makes the ticks pull out.
posted by wayland at 6:48 PM on May 30, 2013

So ticks are a fact of life in my neck of the woods. We find them EVERY day. Every time the kids find a tick crawling they get points. We do tick checks every night. Often we find them embedded. Over 30-48 hours, not good. Under, not to worry.

We take it very seriously because 2 very close neighbors have had Lyme disease.
posted by beccaj at 6:56 PM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

In my experience (n=3), the tick body is clearly visible; the head is buried in the skin, and a body about the size of a match head is dangling out. If you couldn't see the ticks with the naked eye, then either (1) it wasn't a tick or (2) the body has broken off, leaving a severed head buried in you or (3) there are microscopic ticks beyond my experience.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:15 PM on May 30, 2013

I have been bitten by thousands of ticks. All kinds of ticks. Mostly there is nothing to worry about, except when there is.

As previously stated, don't deal with tick bites that way ever again. Get tweezers and pull them out slowly, making sure to get the head as well. Then clean with rubbing alcohol.
Your location says that you are in Illinois, if this is the case, and you were bitten by a deer tick, they may carry lime-disease. If you are infected with LD, which I have been, you will know it by a bulls-eyes Target styled logo red rash that forms at the bite. Not all bites by the ticks may get the rash that in my experience was 2" wide. If you have damaged the bite area too much, which I seriously hope not, considering I just said two inches, you can always go to your local clinic/MD and request the easy med for safety. If you do take the meds, make damn sure you take them all, and not just part of them, wait three weeks, decide "Oh, I never got that rash..." and stop taking them, cause my understanding is that next time, the meds might not work. I know there are blood test that can be done...IANAD, but I do know that time is very important if you are infected with LD. It has very serious consequences.

Be safe.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 7:39 PM on May 30, 2013

Don't panic. People who live in the country get tick bites all the time. Lyme disease is pretty rare.

For future reference. like other people have already said, you can remove dug-in ticks with rubbing alcohol and tweezers. Before you had tick bites, now you have burns. Please don't do that again; it's completely unnecessary.
posted by nangar at 7:41 PM on May 30, 2013

Here's the CDC's webpage on Lyme, which covers symptoms and treatment. Merely knowing that Lyme is a possibility is a big part of the battle. A lot of late stage diagnosis comes from the fact that it had never occurred to anyone that Lyme might be what's causing symptoms that can be mistaken for other things.

Geography plays a huge role in its likelihood. Here's a map of Lyme infected tick areas in the US, and here's a tick ID page. In many parts of the US, Lyme is extremely unlikely. Where I live, it's not unusual to for someone with headaches and joint pain to start antibiotics before (probably positive) test results come back. Two out of the three people in my house have had Lyme, we were treated for it without any drama, and we're totally fine. Don't let it scare the crap out of you.

Also: I find this easier to use than tweezers for tick removal.
posted by gnomeloaf at 9:05 PM on May 30, 2013

(3) there are microscopic ticks beyond my experience.

That is indeed the case. Deer tick larvae and nymphs are teeeeny tiny.

I got bit by ticks literally hundreds of times growing up, and those suckers were the worst.
posted by zsazsa at 9:33 PM on May 30, 2013

To reiterate what Tanizaki said:

Use tweezers, or one of the countless tick-removal gadgets.
(you can use alcohol after removing the tick to disinfect)
posted by HFSH at 10:35 PM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: zsazsa: "(3) there are microscopic ticks beyond my experience.

That is indeed the case. Deer tick larvae and nymphs are teeeeny tiny.

I got bit by ticks literally hundreds of times growing up, and those suckers were the worst.

Yes, that pic shows what I believe most resembles the two little bastards I saw under the magnifying glass. They were totally invisible to my unaided eyes.

Also, I'm in northeastern Illinois, so it looks like I'm in the "common" zone according to gnomeloaf's map. I have a bad feeling that I am totally screwed. The extra bad news is that my doc only sees patients on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and she's usually booked for a couple of weeks in advance.

I know the cigarette burn "method" I used was wrong, but, once I saw those two little "aliens" embedded in my skin in the magnifying glass, I panicked and thought the larger area of the cigarette tip might wipe out both the ticks and any harmful pathogens before they made it into my bloodstream. I now know that's as absurd as cutting off your finger a few hours or days after you were bitten by a venomous snake there. Hell, I'm pretty sure I knew it when I did it, but my brain was screaming, "Do something you useless idiot!"

What's even worse is, now I can't remember when I torched the little buggers. I first saw the red spots Friday evening, but I may not have torched them until Monday. I can't remember for sure.

I think I better try and find a doctor soon so I can see about antibiotics. My most sincere and grateful thanks to all who have been so kind as to reply! If anyone has any more info they'd like to add, please add it.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 11:16 PM on May 30, 2013

I should have added: For every one tick we've had that might have caused Lyme, we've pulled off a bunch that didn't. It's very good to be vigilant and follow up on this, but you're not necessarily infected. And even if you are, it's quite treatable.

(And the creep factor is understandable. I've been taking ticks off of myself and family members for years, and I still think it seems like something straight out of the X-Files.)
posted by gnomeloaf at 4:57 AM on May 31, 2013

Best answer: Since no one has addressed the meat allergy part of your question, that syndrome has only been associated with lone star ticks, which are not found or very uncommon in northern Illinois and I think even their nymphs are larger than what you're describing.

If you can't go to your doctor, most urgent care centers can handle this sort of thing just fine--I went to one when I had STARI (probably from a lone star tick) and my doctor couldn't see me. They gave me doxycycline, which is the standard treatment for pretty much all tick-borne bacterial diseases and is frequently given prophylactically. Especially since you gave yourself second degree burns on your arm, it's really worth getting this checked out.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:22 AM on May 31, 2013

If every tick bite I had ever had required antibiotics, I'd have been on antibiotics for most of my childhood, and most of my mid-late twenties.

You can go to a doctor and ask about antibiotics. You probably should go, just for a real clinical evaluation. In light of your worry, I mean. But if you're out of a certain window of time after the tick bite itself, they may not give them to you unless you're actually sick. Because it doesn't always help to give antibiotics to tick-bitten people, before they show symptoms. For some tick diseases, that method doesn't prevent illness, it just delays it. However, that call would be up to your doctor.

I was treated for a suspected tick disease last year. At the time, I had the impression it was Lyme they suspected, but I've since learned that the doctor was more concerned about Rocky Mountain spotted fever or ehrlichiosis. Here's what happened:

1) I found a tick on me. I realized the tick had probably been there more than a day. I removed the tick with tweezers, and went to the doctor.

2) The doctor did not think antibiotics were warranted. He told me to monitor myself, and to return if I started to feel bad.

3) A week or two afterward, I started to experience flu-like symptoms.

4) I went to an urgent care. The doctor examined me, and then asked,"Have you had a tick bite recently?" He put me on doxycycline. I felt better.

5) I wasn't "screwed", and nothing that bad happened. It conceivably could have, if I hadn't been on top of things. But I was, so things were fine.

The "monitor your symptoms and return" method is commonly used among my doctors. The key to that is, you must return if you start feeling bad, and tell them about your tick exposure. For some tick diseases (Rocky Mountain spotted fever), they'll start treating you before the blood test comes back.
posted by Coatlicue at 5:58 AM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

To re-reiterate what tanazaki and HFSH said:

Next time, just douse them in rubbing alcohol - they'll usually let go

the thing you're supposed to do with cigarettes or matches is light them, blow them out, and press them against the tick

DO NOT DO THESE THINGS. (Also do not hold a lit cigarette against your skin but you knew that part already.) Trying to suffocate or burn the tick will make it more likely that you will get lyme disease. Also you'll be burning holes in your skin for no good reason.

All you gotta do is grab some tweezers and pull the suckers out. If you don't have tweezers handy, there's no rush; as long as you get it out before it stops feeding (which takes more than 24 hours) you're likely safe. It's creepy the first time, but really simple -- and thanks to the anesthetic they inject to keep you from noticing them it doesn't even hurt.

(I feel like this is going to be a bad year for ticks; I've had to pull two already and I haven't even spent much time outdoors yet this summer)
posted by ook at 8:47 AM on May 31, 2013

Our pediatrician says to come in if there is any fever or rash especially bullet (rings) rash around the site of the bite. Otherwise, no treatment or worry. They confirm Lyme disease in the local area but this is still their advice. We've had 2 ticks in the last year. No problems so far.

My dad got a bullet rash that the doctor decided was a tick bite and he was treated with antibiotics due to the rash. He did not do blood tests pre and post as he was treating with antibiotics anyway. No problems so far.

These are deer ticks that look like a black dot until you pull out the magnifing glass and see the head and legs and body. Deer ticks are known to carry Lyme.
posted by RoadScholar at 5:59 PM on May 31, 2013

Best answer: Okay, this is important: If you contract Rocky Mountain spotted fever, you can get extremely, deathly sick waiting for a rash to pop up. After a certain length of time going untreated for RMSF, the mortality rate goes up up up. The RMSF rash is an inward-spreading rash, too -- it tends to start on the limbs and move inward. So it might not helpfully pop up around the bite itself.

If you feel bad in the next few weeks, go see the doctor. Don't wait around for a rash to show up. Not everyone gets a rash with a tick disease, anyway.
posted by Coatlicue at 3:21 PM on June 2, 2013

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