We spend significant time focusing on prevention during our classes. It’s an essential part of planning any trip to identify the risks that can be prevented, reduced, or managed. It is faulty to assume that accidents, injury, and illness are an inevitable outcome of travel into the backcountry. This emphasis ensures a better experience, reduces strain on medical systems, and reduces serious negative outcomes that could have been avoided.
Preventing tick bites is the best way to reduce the chances of acquiring a tickborne illness. Together, four actions work to reduce the risk.
Removing an Embedded Tick
If you do find a tick attached to your body, don’t panic. Not every tick will be carrying disease (this varies regionally). It takes at least six hours (Rocky Mountain spotted fever), but generally 24-48 hours (other diseases) of attached time for disease transmission. The sooner you find a tick and remove it, the better.
To remove, use tweezers or a tick removal tool to grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible. Pull away from the skin surface with steady pressure until the tick comes out. If any mouth-parts remain in the skin, you can go after them with the tweezers.
It is not necessary to save the tick for ‘testing’, but consider trying to identify what type it was. Dispose of the tick and wash your hands and tweezers with soapy water.
Caring for a Tick Bite
Gently wash the area with soapy water. You can apply antibiotic ointment to a bandage and cover the wound. As with any skin injury, it is important to change bandaging regularly and monitor for signs of infection. Be alert for any signs of tickborne illness. These may present up to several weeks after the bite.
When to Seek Medical Care
Tickborne illnesses typically present with one or more of the following symptoms within several weeks:
If you experience any of these symptoms after a tick bite (or suspect you could have been bitten), seek out medical care. It is important to explain to the provider that you suspect a tick bite. Tickborne illnesses are treatable, but early diagnosis and care lead to better outcomes.
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When not working, Justin enjoys mountain biking, skiing, paddling whitewater, and chasing big waves on Lake Superior. Having begun his next adventure - Physician Assistant school - he's looking forward to continuing practicing medicine in remote environments, whether that's serving rural communities or on an expedition.