Every spring in Michigan, when ticks wake up from their winter slumber around the same time that many humans seem to wake up from theirs, public health experts remind people to review the basics of tick bite prevention and removal .
But in the unfortunate event that one does stick to you, there’s one key step you should always take when removing it: maintain the mark.
Perhaps understandably, many people’s instinct is to flush the tick down the nearest drain. But saving a tick that bites you can give you and your healthcare providers the opportunity to correctly identify the tick, which could help determine the correct treatment should you become ill as a result of the tick bite.
“The thing is, since different ticks carry different pathogens, knowing which species of tick you have and also which [tick] life stage you have can help narrow down that list,” says Jean Tsao, an associate professor at Michigan State University who researches ticks and tick-borne diseases.
READ MORE: Why You Can Expect More Ticks This Summer In Michigan
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than a dozen tick-borne pathogens that can cause human illness. Those diseases include Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which result from bacteria that can be transmitted by the black-legged tick and the American dog tick, respectively.
But not all ticks carry disease, and different pathogens take different amounts of time to fully transmit to a person after a tick bite. For example, the CDC says the risk of Lyme disease is low if a black-legged tick has been attached for less than 24 hours, which is why experts recommend checking for ticks every day and removing any attached ticks from immediate.
So what’s the best way to save a tick that has bitten you? After carefully removing an embedded tick, Tsao recommends placing the tick in a resealable plastic bag and freeze it, which preserves it for easier identification. (A tick thawed in a plastic bag will eventually dry out and be hard to identify, she says.)
Additionally, Tsao says the bag should be labeled with the date the tick was removed, as well as possible dates and places where the tick may have been picked up, which can help further reduce potential pathogens in the event they are found. sick.
If you want to know right away what kind of tick you have on your hands, there are several tick safety apps like The Tick App and Tick Encounter that can help. Free tick identification is also available to Michigan residents through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
If the tick turns out to be a species known to transmit disease, think twice before sending it to a lab for pathogen testing. The CDC advises against using laboratory test results when deciding whether to use preventive antibiotics after a tick bite, on the grounds that the results may be misleading and unreliable.
As ticks and tick-borne diseases continue to spread to new areas in Michigan and the US in general, approaches to preventative disease treatment have continued to evolve, which can make navigating disease treatment more difficult. tick bite. Current CDC clinical guidelines outline multiple criteria for prescribing antibiotics to prevent Lyme disease, for example, although some health care providers may be more conservative in their approach.
Regardless of what type of tick you have in that little bag, “the guideline is to always be on the lookout for disease,” says Tsao.
Find more information on ticks and tick-borne diseases through the CDC and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
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