Why NCH Won’t Test Your Tick
The summer has arrived on Nantucket, and as we all enjoy outdoor activities it is important to remain vigilant about preventing tick-borne diseases by conducting regular tick checks.
At Nantucket Cottage Hospital, our clinicians have extensive experience in diagnosing and treating Lyme disease, Babesia, Anaplasmosis, Borrelia Miyamotoi, and other tick-borne illnesses. Many island residents and visitors often seek out treatment after a tick bite by bringing the actual tick in with them to the hospital, asking for it to be tested. They are confused when we inform them that we do not test individual ticks for infection. Here’s why:
While some organizations offer this type of test, the Centers for Disease Control strongly discourages using results from these tests when deciding whether to treat patients with antibiotics after a tick bite. Positive results can be misleading, as a bite from an infected tick does not mean the disease has been transmitted. Negative results can also be misleading, as patients might have been bitten unknowingly by another tick. And if you send the tick off to one of these testing organizations, please know that the results may not be reliable, as some laboratories do not meet the same quality standards as hospital or clinic laboratories for patient care.
And the bottom line is that it is the way in which a patient presents when seeking care that will dictate treatment, rather than the results of testing an individual tick for disease.
As our physicians will tell you, the best treatment is prevention – avoiding known tick habitats like brushy or moist areas; tucking your pants inside your socks when outdoors; using repellent; controlling the environment around your home; and conducting regular tick checks, paying close attention to the armpits, groin, and back.
If you do discover a tick on you that is attached, follow these protocols:
Don’t panic: It is more than likely that you have not acquired a tick-borne disease.
Get out the tweezers: Remove the tick promptly by carefully going under its head and pulling out by the mouth, being mindful not to squeeze the body of the tick. Pull upward with steady, even pressure, and don’t twist or jerk the tick.
Double check: If you’ve found one tick, there could be more, so carefully check the rest of your body to make sure.
Monitor your health: Do you need to see a doctor? First you should monitor your health and watch for any symptoms of tick-borne diseases, specifically an expanding rash that may look like a circle or bull’s eye, as well as fever or flu-like symptoms. If you notice any of these symptoms, seek out medical attention. If you know the tick has been embedded for more than 24 hours, remove it immediately as directed above, then call your provider and they will determine whether preventative treatment is appropriate.
So, enjoy the summer on Nantucket, but always be mindful about the risk and prevention of tick-borne diseases.
Elizabeth Harris, Infection Prevention Manager, Nantucket Cottage Hospital