Skip to main content

First rule? Don’t panic.

Pennsylvania leads the way in confirmed cases of Lyme disease for the past several years, and the number of cases keeps growing each year. But finding a tick on your body is not necessarily cause for concern. 

“We’ve seen a steady increase in ticks in northeastern Pennsylvania, and along with that comes an increase of people in the emergency department because they found a tick,” said Gary Wright, M.D., a Geisinger family medicine provider. “Not every tick carries Lyme disease and not ever bite causes it. You should exercise caution, but it’s unlikely that you will need to go to the emergency department.”

Lyme disease is spread through the bite of a blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick. Symptoms include a fever, fatigue, headache and a bull’s eye rash. 

Most of the time, Lyme disease is successfully treated with a round of antibiotics and goes away after a few weeks. However, in some cases, fatigue and muscle aches can last up to six months.  

Here’s what you should do if you find a tick. 

Step one: Don’t overreact. In most cases, a tick won’t transmit Lyme disease until it’s been attached to your skin for 36-48 hours. If you’ve returned from walking your dog, hiking or any activity near a wooded area, checked your body (yes, even your groin, armpits and scalp) and found a tick, you’ll want to remove it as soon as possible. But don’t go to the emergency department.

Step two: Find your tweezers. A clean pair of tweezers will do just fine at removing a tick from your body. 

Step three: Grasp the tick as close to the skin and pull upward in a steady motion. This gives you the best chance of removing the entire tick on the first try. If after the first try you can still see mouth parts in the skin, try again. If you can’t remove them, leave them there and let the skin heal.

Step four: Clean the affected skin. Use soap and water, rubbing alcohol or an iodine scrub if you have it. 

Step five: Dispose of the tick. Flush it down the toilet, wrap it in tape or dunk it in rubbing alcohol. Importantly, don’t crush the tick with your fingers.

After your encounter with a tick, you should monitor your health and be aware of any signs and symptoms that appear. Typically, if you’ve been infected with Lyme disease, you will experience a rash three to seven days after the tick bite. The rash will start at the site of infection and spread outward, sometimes in the shape of a bull’s eye. 

“The rash is a telltale sign of Lyme disease because it occurs in 70 to 80 percent of infected people. Beyond that, other signs to look for are a fever, chills, a headache, fatigue and joint aches and pains,” said Dr. Wright. 

If you notice these symptoms, see your doctor. They will likely prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. 

“The increase in tick-borne illnesses across the state means you should be more vigilant about checking for ticks on your body, your kids and your pets when you come in from being outside. In addition to wearing long sleeves and pants outside, that’s the best way to prevent Lyme,” said Dr. Wright. 

Gary Wright, M.D., is a primary care physician at Geisinger Mt. Pocono. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Wright or another primary care physician, call 570-839-3633 or visit Geisinger.org.