Deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis), also called blacklegged ticks, are sesame seed-sized insects that swell up when engorged. The tendency of the deer tick to feed on the white-tailed deer has given it its name. Oft mistaken for brown ticks due to their semblance, these ticks differ from other types of ticks in their mouthparts. The mouthparts of deer ticks are longer than that of their kindred. Moreover, adults feature a dark spot over the mouth, due to the presence of a shield. These ticks have an orangish-brown tinge which changes to a brownish-red or rust hue after feeding.
As far as size is concerned, deer ticks are smaller than dog ticks. Deer ticks pick large mammals like livestock, domestic animals and humans as their hosts. They sit on grass blades and leaves in the forest and get brushed on to the animal's fur or clothing of people passing by. They then mostly position themselves in the armpit or hollow of the knee and begin sucking blood from their host.
They have the capacity to suck blood for two to three days, with the females sucking capacity extending to even five days. Deer tick bites are known to be rostrums for the spread of various diseases, which is why people panic the minute they realize they have been bitten by a deer tick.
Deer Tick Bites and Disease Transmission
First isolated in the 1920s at Massachusetts, these ticks have been found in regions of the Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, Mexico and Ontario, Canada. These parasites begin their lives as eggs, laid by the female, on leaves of plants. The eggs advance into the larval stage and the tiny tick larvae begin looking for hosts to suck blood from.
Usually tick larvae cling to mice and pacify their hunger and thirst by sucking mice blood. It is during this time of voracious feeding that deer ticks contract several diseases. So the deer tick is not infected as such, however, when it sucks blood from a mouse, it gets infected with the disease carried by the mouse.
Deer ticks do not leap from the leaves onto the host's body, instead, when hosts brush against the leaves of plants, these ticks adhere themselves to the host's fur or clothing. Human beings are regarded as accidental hosts of deer ticks. Several viruses and bacteria are transmitted during the first 48 hours following a deer tick's bite.
The tick, after adhering itself to the host, will gorge on the host's blood and swell up to half the size of an American dog tick. These tiny bloodsuckers do not cause a painful bite, which is why it is so difficult to realize one is being bitten by the nasty tick. In fact, some people may not even be aware of the fact that he or she had encountered a deer tick bite, until certain symptoms show up a few days later.
Early detection enables one to hinder the transfer of dangerous diseases like human anaplasmosis (disease infecting white blood cells and causing gene expression alteration), deer tick Lyme disease (bacterial illness) and babesiosis (malaria-like parasitic disease). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27,444 cases of deer tick Lyme disease-affected people were reported in 2007, in the US.
Deer Tick Bite Symptoms
As these bites are painless, their early detection is very difficult. However, once the tick has finished with its blood sucking ritual, it will drop off, leaving the skin reddish, swollen, itchy and burning. A deer tick bite bears semblance to a mosquito bite, which is why it is often ignored in the initial stages. However, at times a red ring is formed around the bite, which is the distinguishing factor of deer tick bites.
Signs of any illness transmitted by the deer ticks will be visible only after several days or weeks. People often panic after such a bite, however, there is no reason to do so. Wait and watch. If one develops fever or rash in the next few days, then one needs to rush to the doctor. Otherwise, deal with deer tick bite as you would with any insect bite. If you are infected with Lyme disease, then the bitten site will swell and a bull's eye-shaped rash will appear a few days later.
However, often the bull's eye rash may not even appear, even if the person is infected with Lyme disease. This is why doctors oft miss detecting a tick-related illness. Depending on the pathogen transmitted via the deer tick bite, symptoms will vary from flu-like symptoms to fever to rashes. Shortness of breath, palpitations, swelling in various joints, enlarged lymph nodes and vomiting are also some of the other symptoms exhibited.
Deer Tick Removal and Treatment
People who are fond of spending time outdoors are no strangers to deer tick bites. October-November is the peak season for deer ticks and their bite susceptibility. When bitten by a deer tick, it is important to remove it as soon as possible, because the risk of disease transmission increases with the amount of time the tick is attached to the skin. Early removal will reduce the chances of Lyme disease transmission.
Tick Removal from the Skin
To remove a deer tick from the skin, the first thing one has to do is remain calm. Only one third deer ticks carry Lyme disease, so there is no need to panic. To remove the deer tick, do not use your finger, instead get a pair of tweezers. Though tempting, it is not advisable to use petroleum jelly, or alcohol on the tick, because it will only cause the tick to vomit out into your bloodstream and pass infections into your body. Moreover, touching the tick with hot or cold spoons, etc. will also be of no use. Thus, the only effective way to remove the deer tick is by using the tweezers.
The head of the tick will most likely be embedded in the skin, with the tiny mouthparts piercing away into the skin. Using the tweezers, one should grasp the head as close to the skin point as possible, and without squeezing the body, one must remove the entire tick. The tick should be removed intact without leaving the mouthparts stuck in the skin. Squeezing the tick can spearhead entry of bacteria from the tick into the body, which is why it should be avoided.
Next, drop the tick into a glass bottle and pour some rubbing alcohol into it. This tick should be sent for testing at the laboratory, for identification of any diseases it was carrying. Once the tick has been successfully removed, check if the mouthparts are still stuck in the skin. If all of it has come off, wash the bite site with soap and water. Then, apply an antibiotic cream on the bitten area. Rush to the doctor if you encounter symptoms like fever, rash, chill, etc.
Tick Removal from the Hair
Deer ticks stuck in the hair become more difficult to remove. First, the hair should be cleared away, as they can get caught in the tweezers. Then, they should be removed in the above mentioned manner. Once the tick has been carefully pulled out, one should preserve the tick that caused the bite in a bottle filled with alcohol.
If the bite area reveals blood, it should be washed and dabbed with tea tree oil. Tea tree oil, a natural antibacterial speeds up the healing process. Preserve the tick for further laboratory testing. This will assist in early detection of tick-transmitted disease. After deer tick removal, one should immediately consult a doctor. In case the laboratory test results are positive, the doctor will prescribe certain antibiotic courses, which will help counter the disease.
Deer ticks are vectors of various diseases to humans and other animals. To avoid deer tick bites, one should wear light-colored clothes, so as to easily identify the adhering ticks. One should check the clothes frequently for signs of any ticks. Pull up your socks over the pants and the shoes should cover the feet completely, leaving no room for deer tick bites possibility. Just as in the case of mosquito bites, application of eucalyptus oil onto the skin helps keep deer ticks at bay. An ounce of precaution is better than a pound of cure! So take care!