Healthsheet

Tick Bites

Tick Bites

Ticks are insects that feed on the blood of animals and humans. They may gorge themselves for days before you find and remove them. The bites themselves aren't cause for concern. But ticks can carry and transmit illnesses such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Both diseases begin with a rash and symptoms similar to the flu. In advanced stages, these diseases can be quite serious.

Back of arm showing red rash in bull's eye shape.
A "bull's eye" rash is a common symptom of Lyme disease.

When to Go to the Emergency Department (ED)

Not all ticks carry disease. And a tick must remain attached for at least 24 hours to infect you. If you find a tick, don't panic. Try to carefully remove it with tweezers. Grasp the insect near its head and pull without twisting. If you can't easily dislodge the tick or if you leave the head in your skin, get medical care right away.

What to Expect in the ED

  • The tick or any remnants will be removed and the bite cleaned.

  • To prevent disease, you may be given antibiotics. Both Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever respond quickly to these medications.

  • You may be asked to see your doctor for a blood test to check for Lyme disease.

Follow-up

If you remove a tick yourself, watch for signs of a tick-borne illness. Symptoms may appear within a few days or weeks after a bite. Call your doctor if you notice any of the following:

  • Rash (This may spread outward in a ring from a hard white lump. Or, it may move up your arms and legs to your chest.)

  • Chills and fever

  • Body aches and joint pain

  • Severe headache


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