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Tick Bites


What are ticks?

Ticks are small parasites. They may look like insects, but they have eight legs and are related to spiders. Ticks feed on the blood of people and warm-blooded animals. There are many types of ticks in the United States, and they live in different parts of the country.

Ticks can be different colors and sizes. They can be light-colored, reddish brown, or dark brown. Some ticks are so small that they can be difficult to see. Ticks may get on you if you walk though areas where they live, such as tall grass, leaf litter or shrubs.

Why do I need to be worried about tick bites?

If you spend time outdoors or have pets that go outdoors, you need to beware of ticks. When they bite, certain types of ticks can pass on germs that cause different diseases. Sometimes the symptoms can be mild. In other cases, you can have serious, long-lasting health problems. Some of the diseases you can get from a tick bite (called tickborne diseases) include:

  • Lyme disease
  • Alpha-gal syndrome (tick bite red meat allergy)
  • Babesiosis
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Tularemia

What happens if I get bitten by a tick?

You may not feel it when a tick bites you. The tick can stay attached to your body for several days. If that tick is infected, it can pass along any germs to you once it starts sucking your blood. But if you catch it and remove it before it has filled up on your blood, you are less likely to get infected.

How do I remove a tick?

If you find a tick attached to your skin, remove the tick as soon as you can. You could use a tick removal device or a fine-tipped tweezers:

  • Using the tweezers, grab the tick as close to your skin as possible.
  • Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick. You want to remove the whole tick in one piece if you can. If the mouth-parts of the tick break off and stay in the skin, try to remove them. But if you can't remove them easily, then leave them.
  • Thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

When do I need to contact my health care provider about a tick bite?

Many tickborne diseases can have similar signs and symptoms. The most common are:

If you develop any of these symptoms within several weeks of removing a tick, contact your provider.

How can I prevent tick bites?

There are steps you can take to prevent tick bites:

  • Avoid wooded, brushy, and grassy areas, especially during warmer months.
  • Wear insect repellent with DEET, picaridin or another U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellent.
  • Wear light-colored protective clothing.
  • Treat your clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin.
  • Tuck your pant legs into your socks and your shirt into your pants.
  • Remove your clothing after being outdoors. Check your clothing for ticks and remove any ticks that you find. Wash and dry your clothes at high temperatures.
  • Check yourself, your children, and your pets daily for ticks and carefully remove any ticks you find.

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The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.