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Tick Bites

Ticks are small arachnids that feed on the blood of rodents, rabbits, birds, deer, dogs, and people. A tick bite may cause a reaction like a spider bite. You may have redness, itching, and slight swelling at the site. Sometimes you may have no reaction where the tick bit you.

Ticks may gorge themselves for days before you find and remove them. The bites themselves aren't cause for concern. But ticks can carry and pass on illnesses such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Both diseases begin with a rash and symptoms similar to the flu. In advanced stages, these diseases can be quite serious.

Back of arm showing red rash in bull's eye shape.
A "bull's eye" rash is a common symptom of Lyme disease.

When to go to the emergency department (ED)

Not all ticks carry disease. And a tick must stay attached for at least 24 hours to infect you. If you find a tick, don't panic. Try to carefully remove it with tweezers. Grasp the tick near its head and pull without twisting. If you can't easily dislodge the tick or if you leave the head in your skin, get medical care right away.

What to expect in the ED

  • The tick or any parts of the tick will be removed and the bite will be cleaned.

  • To prevent disease, you may be given antibiotics. Both Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever respond quickly to these medicines.

  • You may be asked to see your healthcare provider for a blood test to check for Lyme disease.

Follow-up care

Some states and counties have services that test ticks for Lyme disease and other diseases. Check with your local officials to see if this service is available in your area.

If you remove a tick yourself, watch for signs of a tick-borne illness. Symptoms may show up within a few days or weeks after a bite. Call your healthcare provider if you notice any of the following:

  • Rash. The rash may spread outward in a ring from a hard white lump. Or it may move up your arms and legs to your chest.

  • Chills and fever

  • Body aches and joint pain

  • Severe headache

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