What to do After a Tick Bite
Before we get into the details of what we recommend you do after removing an attached tick that has bitten you, we need to make a quick (yet very important) BLANKET STATEMENT:
Both the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) as well as International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) do NOT recommend taking antibiotics prophylactically after a tick bite, to prevent any tick-borne illnesses that the tick may or may not have had. CLICK HERE to learn more about when prophylactic treatment is recommended, and why in some cases, it isn’t.
First things, first: Properly REMOVE the tick (if you haven’t yet) by slowly pulling the tick straight out with needle-nosed tweezers; or twisting it off *ONLY* if using a device that calls for it, such as a Tick Twister. Then, SAVE THE TICK for testing! You just never know when it may be a good idea to have the tick tested, so put it in a ZipLock bag and stick it in your freezer for safe keeping.
Next (& this is important): Identify the Tick. It is extremely helpful if you are able to correctly identify what type of tick bit you. Information such as the size and color of the tick; whether it was actually attached to the skin, if so, was it was engorged (that is, full of blood), and how long it was attached — are all bits of information that can help you to best determine both what to expect, as well as to help you prepare for any potential illnesses the tick may have transmitted. Be sure to check out our Guide to Identifying Ticks to help get you started – or simply snap a photo and send it to our Tick Detective program or Tick Safety Hotline to get identified by a professional.
Next, thoroughly WASH the bite site (as well as your hands) with soap and water. It’s important to properly disinfect the bite site with rubbing alcohol (if available), followed by some triple-antibiotic ointment or antiseptic. While we certainly hope that you were able to get the tick out in one piece, often times, mouth-parts are left behind as the tick may have been improperly removed. If this happens, DON’T FRET! The chances of getting any tick-borne illness that the tick had from any small amount of saliva left in the mouthparts or ‘concrete’ feeding tube which many species secrete, is extremely slim. The greatest risk is typically a bacterial infection (which is easily prevented).
Lastly, is being aware of any signs or symptoms of a tick-borne illness. one of the trickiest parts of detecting a tick-borne illness is knowing how to recognize symptoms that can often be confusing, nonspecific, or reminiscent of other many other somewhat common illnesses — including COVID-19. There are a few major signs you should watch out for, however. Because nearly all tick-borne illnesses typically present the same way, be on the lookout for “flu-like” symptoms such as:
- Fever, Head and Body Aches, and Fatigue
- Nausea, Vomiting, Diarrhea, Abdominal Pain, and Cough
If any of these signs present themselves within 3 to 14 days after being bitten by a tick, seek professional medical treatment immediately. Do not ever delay treatment if signs or symptoms appear.
Bull’s Eye Rash for Lyme Disease
One of the signature symptoms of Lyme disease is the bull’s eye rash, or Erythema migrans (EM rash) — a red, circular rash that develops at the site of the bite anywhere from 3 to 30 days after the bite. However, a number of studies have shown that only between 60% and 80% of all patients diagnosed with Lyme disease remember any kind of rash. Other types of rashes are also associated with other tick-borne diseases besides Lyme, such as red dots around the ankles and wrists associated with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
Rashes from Lone Star Tick Bites
As with bites from other species of ticks, you may never actually notice the actual bite of a tick; and even after it is removed, it may be hard to tell where exactly the tick bit you. The problem of course, is that the fact that all ticks are minuscule; and the Lone Star tick is no exception. Lone Star ticks can be about the size of a poppy or sesame seed; all the way up to a sunflower seed or larger (if it’s been feeding), so it is very unlikely that you will feel the bite when it happens. After a Lone Star tick that was feeding has been removed however, now THAT is a different story altogether.
Unlike other tick bites, the bite of a Lone Star tick commonly becomes inflamed and red, and in many cases, a rash appears which is typically not painful, but rather, very itchy. These rashes are extremely common specifically with the Lone Star tick, and may last anywhere from several days to several weeks or more.
The quasi-simple explanation behind this anomaly, is that the anesthetic that a Lone Star tick injects into its host before attaching itself and feeding, also contains an abnormally large number of Dendritic cells (white blood cells that are part of the immune system which essentially ‘announce’ the presence of an antigen or pathogen). Because of this, the body’s immune system tends to have a greater response to the bite of the Lone Star.