Bitten by a tick in Georgia. See a doctor now or wait?
May 24, 2017 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday (Tuesday) evening, I found a tick attached to my body and removed it. Odds are good it had been attached for around 48 hours at that point; the last time I was in the woods was Sunday evening. Should I see a doctor immediately? Should I wait a week? Or should I only go if I develop symptoms of a tick-borne disease?

I live in Georgia, USA. Google tells me that there are three species of ticks here that affect humans, and they all carry bacterial diseases.

My gut tells me to see a doctor today, because I have a better-safe-than-sorry attitude to things like this (not to mention serious anxiety issues, especially around health and disease) but I'm afraid that all they'll be able to do is tell me to go home and come back if I start developing symptoms. I'm uninsured, but this isn't a huge problem: I have plenty of money available to cover medical expenses. Still, I'd rather not drop a couple hundred dollars on an office visit that won't accomplish anything.

On the other hand, if they'd be able to do a blood test or something today to decide whether I need antibiotics, I'd happily visit the doctor immediately.

Would seeing a doctor be productive at this point? Should I wait a week and then see a doctor? Should I not bother seeing a doctor at all unless I develop symptoms like a rash or fever?
posted by a mirror and an encyclopedia to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Did you save the tick?
posted by ReluctantViking at 9:39 AM on May 24, 2017

Unfortunately, no.
posted by a mirror and an encyclopedia at 9:43 AM on May 24, 2017

Is there a pharmacy with a consulting nurse or anything nearby? Maybe you can talk to someone locally who can give you better advice. With the number of people I've known to have issues from tick bites, I'd probably be quick to act like you.
posted by Kimothy at 9:55 AM on May 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Can you call the doctor and ask for this bit of advice? A doctor in situ is going to make a better gut call than internet strangers.

On preview, I'm seconding Kimothy-- someone who knows tickborne disease better than us should answer this question. I'd be as worried about acquiring alpha-gal sensitivity as much as Lyme, considering the consequences.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:56 AM on May 24, 2017

I would Google and see what kind of tick it was. They all can carry disease but there are different levels of risk. For where I live, in the Northeast and the Midwest, if it were a dog tick, I would not go to a doctor (though I would call if I were worried.)
I have on the other hand found deer ticks on myself and my kids that were probably attached for 48 hours in heavy Lyme disease areas, went to a clinic and was given a prophylactic dose of antibiotics as standard procedure.
posted by flourpot at 10:10 AM on May 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

The current standard of care is a single prophylactic dose of doxycycline, if you know you've had a tick on you more than 24 hours and you're in a Lyme-endemic area (you are). Go get it. Do NOT wait for a rash, they only appear in 80% of cases and you do not want to be that 20%.
posted by Dashy at 10:11 AM on May 24, 2017 [19 favorites]

Seconding what Dashy/flourpot said: the key points are whether the tick has been attached to you long enough, if you are in a Lyme endemic area, and whether it is a deer tick (the very small kind, when not engorged they are only about the size of the period at the end of a sentence). We do doxycycline prophylaxis for this scenario. We do not do prophylactic treatment for other tick borne illnesses.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:27 AM on May 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's incredibly easy to distinguish a dog/wood tick from a deer/black-legged tick, and dog ticks don't carry Lyme disease, though they can indeed transmit some diseases. See google images for a variety of comparison photos. While dog ticks can carry disease, the tend to not be as serious as Lyme disease. The primary disease spread by dog ticks, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, is extremely rare in Georgia.

I'm with flourpot: I'd personally go in if it was a deer tick (small, black, like a flea or black sesame seed) and wait it out if it was a dog tick (much larger, browner, like a lentil).
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:27 AM on May 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am a nurse but I'm not your nurse. I have done extensive tick borne illness research. I also live in the south and we don't really see that many cases of tick borne illnesses. Only go see the doctor if you develop flu-like symptoms, see a definite bullseye around the bite, or if the bite gets infected. If you are going to get sick with a tick borne illness, it will be about a 7 to 14 days before you have symptoms.
posted by Amalie-Suzette at 10:32 AM on May 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Get yourself to a doctor now. In the future, always save the tick. Some medical professionals don't take you as seriously as they should unless they know you have the tick. That being said, the sooner you are checked out the better. If you do have Lyme, the longer it goes undetected, the worse it will be for you.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:37 AM on May 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

If you have a local health department, call them and ask. The incidence of disease in your specific locality is relevant.
posted by amtho at 10:43 AM on May 24, 2017

One thing to know about ticks in Georgia is that Lyme is actually quite rare. One of our more common tick-born diseases is STARI (southern tick-associated rash infection). There is no test for it because they still haven't identified the bacteria that causes it. We also have Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis.

Another thing to know is that one of our most common ticks is the lone star tick. They are easy to recognize because of the white dot. Bites from this species are associated with developing an allergy to meat.

I get bitten by Georgia ticks a lot because I work outside, and I do not go to the doctor prophylactically. However, I usually find them a lot sooner than you did. In your situation, I would just wait to see if symptoms develop. If I got a rash or flu like symptoms in the next 2 weeks, I would go to the doctor.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:44 AM on May 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

I was bitten by a tick, I DID NOT have a bullseye rash, but I came down with Lyme.

Please, PLEASE go see a doctor, PLEASE. Even if Lyme is rare where you are (it was where I lived), it is so so much better to be safe than sorry.
posted by kariebookish at 10:48 AM on May 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

Seconding that you should be able to google and figure out what type of tick it was.

Deer ticks are the ones to worry about re Lyme disease, and if it was on you that long and was a deer tick, I would go to the doctor. Keep in mind that it is rare in Georgia, but deer ticks can also give you babesiosis (just mentioning it because the symptoms can be a bit vague, and I actually did get this from a tick bite I did not know I had, probably gotten in New Jersey or New York.)
posted by gudrun at 11:05 AM on May 24, 2017

Went to the doctor, got a prophylactic course of doxycycline, and now feel much less anxious. Going in was also good because there were still little bits of tick mouthparts lodged in the bite area, which the doctor was able to extract with forceps and which I definitely would not have been able to get out myself.

Thanks for your input, everybody.
posted by a mirror and an encyclopedia at 11:48 AM on May 24, 2017 [7 favorites]

Googling to determine the species of the tick wouldn't really have been helpful in my case, as I managed to lose the body of the tick down the shower drain as soon as I got it off. All I know for certain is that it had a brown body. Google was able to tell me that all three species of human-associated ticks in Georgia carry disease, and all three of them have brown bodies.

If this ever happens again, I'll make sure I don't lose the insect.
posted by a mirror and an encyclopedia at 11:52 AM on May 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'll make sure I don't lose the insect.

Not that it matters in any practical sense, but ticks are arachnids, not insects.
posted by aubilenon at 12:29 PM on May 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

For future reference: Around my neck of tick-infested woods , people with attached ticks go to the pharmacy minute clinic, get the tick removed, and get that single dose of doxyclycline. No need to mail off the tick orwait for the rash or other symptoms.
posted by Elsie at 2:11 PM on May 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

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