Myths and Misconceptions About Ticks - Part Two

Summer's in full swing, and ticks are out in full force. It's important to know how to stay tick safe so you can protect yourself, your family and your pets. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about how to avoid, find, remove and dispose of ticks. Here are six more of the most common myths, misconceptions - and the and truths - about ticks.

Eric-lee-ohsis-tick6. Myth: Ticks can smell blood.

Fact- What ticks actually detect is carbon dioxide, ammonia in sweat and heat from potential hosts. Your breath is their favorite scent and no amount of insect repellent can hide it. Once they sense CO2 or sweat (and some ticks have very fine sensory organs) they crawl towards the source. They can sense even the slightest movement and begin to detect you from 50 feet or more away.

Some ticks will perch themselves on grasses or brush with their sticky little legs outstretched, just waiting for a host to walk by. If you brush against them, they board you. 

7. Myth: A tick that bites you has to remain attached for 24-36 hours to transmit disease-causing pathogens.
Fact - While that might be true for certain tick-borne diseases, an infected tick can transmit deadly Powassan in a matter of minutes. The length of time a tick stays attached depends on the tick species, tick life stage and host response to the bite. The bottom line: you want to get rid of a tick as quickly as possible.

8. Myth:  If you find a tick, the best way to remove it is to burn it with a match.

Fact - According to Dr. Stephen Rich, this thinking is totally wrong and misguided. “Imagine trying to burn something the size of a poppy seed or smaller that’s attached closely to your skin,” he says. “This is potentially dangerous and painful. Agitating the tick can put you at a higher risk of exposure.”  

Other popular myths about removing ticks include smothering it with oil, butter, nail polish, nail polish remover, dish detergent, Vaseline, alcohol or aftershave. All pose the same risk as burning.

The best - and safest - way to remove a tick is to use fine-tipped tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and pull straight up in a firm but slow and steady motion until it pops out of the skin.

9. Myth: The head of a tick can burrow under your skin and cause disease even after you remove the body.

Fact - Ticks don’t have heads. Ticks have barbed mouth parts which can remain in the skin if the entire tick is not removed. That can cause skin inflammation or a local infection.  

Only tiny cutting limbs and a barbed feeding tube (too small to see easily with the naked eye) enter the skin. However, the tick creates a pit in the flesh of its host, in which its body sits. This can make it appear as if the tick has gone deep inside the skin.

10. Myth: You should dispose of an embedded tick by flushing it down the toilet. You don’t need to waste money getting it tested if you have removed it properly.

Fact: There are several reasons to save the tick and have it tested, and many states have free testing services.

  • “Test it for the public good. It is helpful to know what type of tick bit you, and what type of pathogens or parasites it is carrying”, says Dr. Rich. “The tick you find might be new to the area, or it might be carrying a disease that has not been found in the area before”.
  • Test for your peace of mind. Not all ticks carry diseases. If the tick is carrying pathogens,, the onset of symptoms may be similar, but the necessary treatment may be different.

11. Myth:  If a tick gives you Lyme Disease, you’ll get a bullseye rash.

Fact:. Less than 50% of Lyme disease patients ever find a bull’s-eye rash, or any rash at all. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have Lyme. 

Rashes present in many different ways. Some are red and some are pink. Some are big and blotchy or spotted. If you find any rash at all, and you start to experience symptoms of tick-borne illness such as flu-like illness, do not assume your rash is nothing. This is why it’s best to save the tick and have it tested so you know what you may be dealing with.

12.  Myth:  If your blood test is negative, you’re in the clear). 

Fact: Unfortunately, there is still no reliable test for tick-borne diseases. That is why it is so important to be vigilant about checking for ticks and removing them properly if you find one.

There are several reasons for inaccurate results.The sensitivity varies depending on how long an individual has been infected. Also, if you have received antibiotics in the early stage of the disease, antibody levels may be too low to be detected. Antibodies to Borrelia burgdorferi, the Lyme bacteria, often do not appear in the blood for several weeks.

Read Myths & Misconceptions About Ticks Part One