Ask Your Pharmacist

July 3, 2019
Q:

A tick bit a player at my local golf course. I’m not going to stop playing golf there so what should I do if I get bit? Can tick bites be prevented?

A:

If I were in your shoes, I’d keep playing too. There are ticks (a parasitic arachnid related to spiders) in New Brunswick. Some carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, an infection that if left untreated for a long period can cause memory loss, difficulty moving, and pain. Anyone who plans to spend a lot of time outdoors this summer should know how to handle tick bites and the signs of infections.

In New Brunswick, there are three types of ticks. One of them, the Blacklegged tick, is capable of spreading the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. About 13 per cent of Blacklegged ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, but even if you are bitten by an infected tick, it is still unlikely that the infection will be transmitted to you, especially if the tick is removed properly in the first 24 to 36 hours after being bit. Proper removal requires a pair of tweezers or a tick removal kit from your local pharmacy. Using the tweezers, grasp the tick by the head and remove it from the person’s skin. Try to get all mouth parts. This will reduce the chance of the tick regurgitating fluid containing bacteria.

If you find a tick on you and have removed it properly, you don’t always need to see a physician or head to the emergency department. The Government of New Brunswick recommends following the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) guidelines for Lyme disease prevention and treatment. These guidelines recommend seeing a doctor for antibiotic treatment immediately after the removal of a tick if it is identified as a Blacklegged tick, if it has been attached more then 36 hours, if you are in a region with higher than 20 per concentration of infected ticks and if you can get treatment within 72 hours. Most tick bites will not meet these criteria, especially if you check yourself for ticks after outdoor activities. Some physicians may follow other guidelines and may prefer to treat regardless of probability. This is based on their professional judgement and interpretation of the evidence. You can also check with your local public health department to find tick infection rates in your area.

The signs and symptoms usually appear in stages, and being able to identify these symptoms will also let you know if treatment is required. The development of a rash of rings (resembling a bullseye target) is one of the hallmark symptoms of Lyme disease. Normally the rash appears within three to 30 days of a bite. This rash occurs in 80 per cent of cases. It is also common to have flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills and body aches along with this rash, which usually starts within 10 days after the bite. If left untreated, symptoms such as joint pain and neurological problems can occur. These are the long-term complications that most patients think of when they think of Lyme disease. If you develop a rash or flu-like symptoms within 30 days of a tick bite, then you should see your family doctor as you may require treatment.

Ticks are becoming more common and expanding in range throughout North America, but the rate of Lyme disease at the moment is low. Safe tick removal, knowing the signs/symptoms of Lyme disease and appropriate treatment is more relevant than ever. When you’re golfing, cover your legs, or wear bug repellent with high DEET content, and keep your ball in the fairway away from long grass and brush.

Jared Mactavish (BSc., Pharm) is a pharmacist at Guardian Pharmacy in Hampton and St. Stephen. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to AskYourNBPharmacist@gmail.com.