Although tick bites are painless, they are far from harmless. A bite from this mite is often the cause of serious health problems such as Lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis) or verno-summer meningoencephalitis.
The sting is painless
Tick bites are difficult to identify. Unlike those of other insects, tick bites do not cause immediate pain. Indeed, when this arachnid feeds on human blood, it injects an anesthetic substance into it which makes its bite painless. In addition to this absence of pain, no sores or swelling are visible on the skin surface after a few minutes after a tick bite, but redness may appear later.
To feed, ticks cling to our skin thanks to a system of hooks integrating its mouth apparatus. The head of the mite is thus immersed inside the skin while its body remains visible on the surface. Ticks particularly like soft, moist and warm areas of the human body such as the folds of the knees, the groin, the armpits, the neck, the nape of the neck, behind the ears and on the inside of the thigh. In children, the scalp is one of the parts most exposed to the bite. After passing through a risk area, an unusual black dot on the skin surface sometimes indicates the presence of a tick.
The tick is the cause of Lyme disease and FSME
The tick is a transmitter of pathogens including viruses or bacteria to humans. A tick bite can release the virus of the type, arbovirus, responsible for FSME or Frühsommer-Meningo-Enzephalitis in German or méningo-encephalite verno-estivale (MEVE) in French.
Since FSME viruses are found in the salivary glands of ticks, they are immediately transmitted to humans during a bite. The first flu-like symptoms appear 1 to 2 weeks later after the bite.
The possible aggravation of this neurological disease, for example in the form of meningitis, in about 5 to 15% of infected people can lead to permanent sequelae or even death. There is no specific treatment for FSME. However, it is possible to avoid contracting the disease by getting vaccinated. Vaccination is increasingly recommended, as is the case in Switzerland.
If the tick has remained attached to the skin for longer than 24 hours, it can release the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes borreliosis or Lyme disease. Note that some sources believe that the transmission of borreliosis can already take place in a period of less than 24 hours.
The first sign of Lyme disease is often a localized skin redness that often appears just days after the bite (often 3 weeks) and gradually spreads around the bite site as a spot or halo (pictured just below).
Lyme disease causes many joint (rheumatism) and dermatological problems. No vaccine is planned to prevent this disease. In case of contraction, symptomatic treatment with antibiotics is prescribed.
The rapid extraction of the tick: first aid action
During a tick bite, the transfer of the virus responsible for FSME or verno-summer meningoencephalitis (MEVE) can take place immediately. The bacterium that causes Lyme disease is transmitted only after the tick has successfully attached itself to the skin for at least 24 hours.
In order to avoid contamination, the first emergency action to adopt in the event of a tick bite is to remove the animal sticking to the skin as quickly as possible. A special tweezer called tick tweezers, tick tweezers, on sale in pharmacies, is provided for this purpose. In an emergency, you can also use simple tweezers. Squeeze the tweezers as close as possible to the skin, remove the tick by gently pulling with a slow, steady upward motion.
Avoid twisting or squeezing the tick’s body, as this does not permanently remove the animal’s mouthpart, which becomes embedded in the skin. Be careful, avoid bad habits such as using nail polish, the flame of a match or petroleum jelly to remove the tick.
Signs of serious contamination
It is imperative to consult a doctor or pharmacist if you are unable to completely remove the tick attached to your skin in order to avoid bacterial contamination. The appearance of a small red spot on the sting area is completely normal.
If from the third day after the bite it is not healed or if it turns into a rash, go to your doctor immediately, as this may be a sign of progress of the disease of Lyme. Finally, certain symptoms such as a persistent and severe headache, paralysis, palpitation of the heart or difficulty breathing after a tick bite are signs of serious contamination that require emergency care.
Tips for preventing tick bites
A good covering of the surface of the skin, especially of the lower limbs during walks in the forest or on the edge of the forest and the other areas at risk constitutes the first precaution to be taken in order to avoid tick bites.
Concretely, wear closed clothing such as long pants, socks pulled up over the pants, long-sleeved shirts and closed shoes.
Wearing light-colored clothing is also strongly recommended, as it allows you to quickly distinguish the presence of ticks. Spraying on a good repellent at the beginning of the walk can be essential if you plan to wear a short-sleeved top.
For naps and picnics, prefer open areas and provide a tablecloth or blanket to avoid direct contact with the ground. Finally, avoid touching plants close to the ground such as tall grass, bushes, shrubs or brush.