The Big Bad Tick

Grooming Gab

By Kathy Hosler

Although I don’t like them, ticks never really bothered me that much. If I found one on a dog I was grooming, I would remove it, seal it in a plastic baggie and give it to the owner when they picked up their pet. 

I once removed over 80 ticks from a Standard Poodle. That was pretty gross and time consuming, but you just stay calm and deal with the challenges of each day.

That all changed the day I found a tick embedded in ME. I was not calm at all. Believe me, when it happens to you, a tick bite is a whole different story. The skin around that little blood sucker was already an angry red! I couldn’t get that tick off of me quickly enough. I cleaned the wound site, put the tick in a bag, sealed it and headed off to urgent care.

I don’t know how long it had been on me before I saw it, but the bright, spreading redness around the bite really alarmed me. I immediately suspected that the tick had Lyme disease—and feared it had been attached to me long enough to infect me. I never felt the bite, and I had no clue how or where it got on me, but it was already becoming intensely itchy.

There are roughly 850 species of ticks in the world. More than 24 species are found in Pennsylvania where I live. Our state has more reported cases of Lyme disease in people than any other. Pennsylvania had more than 10,000 confirmed cases in 2018.

At urgent care, I was examined. The doctor congratulated me for removing the entire tick. He said that a lot of people panic, and in their attempt to remove a tick, they leave the head or mouthparts in the site of the bite.

I told him that I was very concerned about Lyme disease as I knew several people who had it and suffered debilitating, long–lasting problems from it. The doctor told me that I could send the tick to be tested for multiple diseases by going to www.ticklab.org. You better believe, I was on that website within five minutes after I got home. Not only did it accept ticks for testing, it was loaded with information about identifying ticks, the diseases they cause, and how to protect yourself and your pets from them.

I clicked on the Pennsylvania Tick Research Laboratory online tick testing order form. I filled out the survey that asked me questions like: what city and county I resided in, did I live in an urban or wooded area, where the tick was attached to me, etc. I was instructed how to package the tick and where to send it. Then I chose which diseases I wanted the little vampire to be tested for, and mailed it to the lab the next morning.

I was prescribed 12 days of Doxycycline. The doctor said that even if the tick did test positive, the Doxycycline should prevent me from getting Lyme disease. I read the brochure that came with the antibiotic. Pancreatitis, liver problems, inability to pass urine, Stevens Johnson Syndrome, diarrhea, and trouble breathing and swallowing were just some of the possible side effects of the antibiotic. 

Wow! Did I want to take my chances that the tick did not transmit Lyme disease to me, or take the antibiotic and risk those side effects?  I decided to take the Doxycycline. 

Let me tell you a little bit about Lyme disease. It is caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted to humans by Ixodes ticks. This is nothing new; they have been around for eons. Researchers have found fossilized ticks entombed in amber that are estimated to have lived 15 million years ago. Inside the ticks’ bodies they discovered Borrelia spirochete cells—the kind that cause Lyme disease today.

Lyme disease is a multi–system illness. Early symptoms include headache and muscle aches, fever, chills, sore throat, stiff neck, joint pain, nausea, light–headedness and more. Untreated, the illness can progress to devastating rheumatic, cardiac and neurological conditions. 

Our dogs can get vaccinated against Lyme disease. Unfortunately, at present, there is no vaccine for humans.

I continued to take my antibiotics while I waited for the laboratory results. In a few days the results confirmed what I had feared since the moment I found the tick. It was positive for Lyme disease. I finished the course of antibiotics. A few weeks later, my doctor sent me for follow–up blood work. A wave of relief washed over me when the doctor’s office called and said that my test results were negative for Lyme. 

Lyme disease is only one of the many dangerous diseases that people and pets can get from ticks. A few of the others are Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Cat Scratch disease and Tularemia. 

Any tick bite can have serious consequences and lead to lifelong problems. If you find one on yourself and don’t know how long it has been on you, remove it and get medical attention immediately. Then have the tick tested to see if it is carrying any disease–causing pathogens. Not every tick is a carrier of disease, but having it tested is the best way to know for sure. Prompt diagnosis and treatment greatly improve the probability of a full recovery.

Don’t let those little blood suckers get a grip on you. They may be small, but they can definitely impact your life in a big, bad way. ✂️