Posted: 06/21/12, 12:01 AM EDT | Updated: on 06/21/2012
If I find a tick on me, what should I do?
Do not panic.
Remove it carefully with a tweezers. Do not crush the tick because that may force germs into you. Petroleum jelly does not work and holding a match close to a tick poses the risk of burns or setting clothes on fire, based on state public health department advice.
So proceed cautiously.
First, what kind of tick is it? It could be an American dog tick, a brown dog tick, and possibly a rabbit tick, or one of another species.
If possible, remove the tick, and put it in a container.
If you later develop symptoms the tick species is important.
Even if you find a black-legged tick, chances are this it is not infected with the Lyme disease spirochete. Should it be, transmission of Lyme disease is not instantaneous, physicians stressed.
The black-legged tick uses teeth on its mouth parts to cut into skin. This can take anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours. After the mouthparts are inserted the tick produces a type of cement to affix itself to skin.
The tick then injects saliva containing proteins that prevent clotting, widen blood vessels, deaden nerve endings, and suppress the immune system, said Kirby C. Stafford III. chief entomologist and tick expert at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.
Meanwhile, spirochetes in the tick's gut sense that the tick is feeding and begin to migrate in the tick's own blood-like system to the tick's salivary glands to gain access to the tick's source of blood.
Ticks are small, but spirochetes are millions of times smaller, making the fraction-of-an-inch journey a long one.
The tick may feed for 24 to 48 hours before the Borrelia burgdorferi arrives at its point of embarkation.
After 48 hours the bacteria are on station and the odds of transmission rises dramatically, Stafford said.
"So there is a window, which is why tick checks are important," he said.
Since you are looking for something as inconspicuous as the head of a pin, you might want assistance from a spouse or friend.
Meanwhile, the spirochete is not standing still. Borrelia burgdorferi has its own defensive measures.
As the spirochete swims to the site of the bite, its surface proteins change. Old surface proteins necessary to adhere to the tick's gut vanish and new surface proteins necessary for mammalian infection appear on the bacterium.
The spirochete can display many different surface proteins, which makes the immune system work harder.
Connecticut had 3,068 reported cases of Lyme disease in 2010, according to the state Department of Public Health. That translates to a rate of about 90 cases per 100,000 people, giving Connecticut the dubious distinction of having one of the highest reported rates of the disease in the U.S.
Rankings fluctuate as federal case definitions and reporting regulations change. Connecticut is either first or second on federal, state or private web sites.
Other states with a high incidence of Lyme disease are Delaware, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Minnesota, based on federal and state statistics.
Lyme disease is much less common to rare in the rest of the country.
Ninety cases per 100,000 means that an average person in endemic Connecticut has a 0.09 percent chance of developing a case, or a little less than one-tenth of a percent.
This rate becomes important when a patient undergoes testing for the disease.
However, there are numerous ticks, many, many bites, and a surfeit of human bodies sweeping through the underbrush. Naturally, people who venture into vegetation, even in their backyards, are at higher risk than folks that keep to sidewalks.
Through tick testing, the Experiment Station found that an average of 25.3 percent of nymphs and 32.2 percent of adults were positive for the Lyme disease bacterium.