What to do if you find an embedded tick?

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 8:00am

The good news is that these beautiful summer days are perfect for being outdoors. The bad news is that the Boothbay area has become an epicenter of tick-borne disease. Not just Lyme disease, but also Babesiosis, Bartonella, Ehrlichiosis/Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and the Powassan virus are all carried by our local tick population. So don't stay inside, but wear repellent, treat your clothes, and do tick checks daily.

The other good news is that there is now a Boothbay Harbor resource for dealing with ticks. And we're already becoming a magnet for treatment. Recently the mother of a 5-year-old who lived in central Maine called the Boothbay Region Health Center because her daughter had an embedded tick and her pediatrician removed it, but refused to treat her, saying "kids don't get Lyme disease." The mom was justifiably upset. So she called us and then drove 90 minutes each way to come meet with Dr. Steve Cook. He listened to her concerns, and treated her daughter. Unfortunately, there are many physicians in Maine (even in emergency departments) who are not up-to-date on how to diagnose and treat the many diseases that can be carried by a single tick.

So, if you find a tick on you or on someone else, here's what you should do (based on the advice provided by Paula Jackson Jones during her three Tick Talks on the peninsula on June 14th:

1. Remove it carefully. Use a tick spoon, tick key, or tweezers. Make sure you get all the parts of the tick out. Clean the wound with antiseptic. Apply an anti-bacterial ointment, like Bacitracin. Disinfect the tick spoon, key or tweezers. If you can't remove the tick, come to the Boothbay Region Health Center. We will remove it for you and save it for testing. If you didn't save the tick, jump to Step 4 (and remember to save it next time). If the tick was embedded, get treated. Don't wait for symptoms, like a rash, to develop. A tick can infect you within minutes.

2.Save the tick. Put it in a plastic bag or in scotch tape. If it's still alive, you can freeze it. Don't worry about whether it's squished. It will be pulverized anyway during the testing phase.

3.Send the tick to be tested. That way you will know what disease(s) your tick was carrying.

Go on the Internet to either of these two labs: University of Maine Tick Lab: https://extension.umaine.edu/ticks/

University of Massachusetts/Amherst Tick Report service: https://www.tickreport.com/

The University of Maine Tick Lab is the least expensive option. They will test the tick for the diseases that are most prevalent in Maine: Lyme, Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis/Anaplasmosis. The fee is $15. The University of Massachusetts' Tick Report is more comprehensive. They will also test for Powassan Virus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and other tick-borne diseases. Their prices range from $50 to $200, depending on how comprehensive you want it to be. For either tick testing service, fill in the online form and your credit card info and then mail the tick by regular mail in a regular envelope to the address they give you. You will receive the results via email in 3 days from either Lab. Share these with your medical provider. They should go in to your medical record.

4. See a Lyme-literate provider ASAP. Don't wait for the lab results from the tick to go to the doctor. The chances are at least 60% that you have been infected with at least 1 tick-borne disease, and probably 2 or 3. So, you should start on a course of antibiotics right away. The sooner you knock the bacteria out, the better. (If the tick test comes back negative, just stop taking the antibiotic, but it's better to be safe.) Ideally, you should get a prescription for 100 to 200 mg of Doxycycline for 30 days. A few days isn't enough if you're infected with one or more of the bacteria that cause Lyme and these other co-infections. Watch for symptoms and report any symptoms to your Lyme-literate provider. This will help them determine which blood tests to do. Once you both know which diseases you have, your treatment will attack each one. For example, Babesiosis is a malaria-like disease which needs to be treated very differently than the other tick-borne diseases. The Boothbay Region Health Center at the Meadow Mall is considered a Lyme-Literate provider. If you get a tick bite, call us at 633-1075. We take ticks and tick-borne infections seriously. All of our providers can handle the first steps of testing, diagnosis and treatment for patients of all ages (with or without antibiotics). If you suspect that you may have contracted one or more tick-borne diseases in the past, whether or not you ever saw the tick or the bite, you should get yourself tested.

5. Make sure your blood test goes to a specialized lab. Standard lab tests, including Lyme tests, are not reliable. You are likely to get a false negative. To be sure, have your blood tested by one of the labs that specializes in detecting tick-borne diseases. The Boothbay Region Health Center uses two such labs: IGeneX and Armin. They will check for Lyme but also for all the tick-borne diseases you may have contracted. These tests are expensive and are not always covered by health insurance. Medicare will cover one thorough test per year. If you need a test and can't afford the cost, we'll give you information on available scholarships through MidCoast Lyme Disease Support and Education. Just remember that early diagnosis and treatment will save you years of suffering and tens of thousands of dollars in treatment costs.

6. Get treated by a tick-borne disease specialist. Once you have your diagnosis, work with a Lyme-literate provider who specializes in treating tick-borne diseases. These diseases and co-infections are difficult to treat and diagnose by medical providers who don't specialize. You're lucky. We have such a specialist at the Boothbay Region Health Center. Family Nurse Practitioner Jennie McNeil specializes in treating tick-borne diseases using an integrated medicine approach. She attacks the bacteria and/or virus that cause the disease(s), and she'll help you rebuild your immune system and your gut biome with appropriate diet and supplements. You'll need to make an appointment and she's quite booked, so don't delay.