Ticks are small insects belonging to the arachnid family which feed on blood to survive. They attach to their hosts as they pass by to where the ticks are waiting to latch on. They feed on hosts like mammals, birds, reptiles and also humans. Once attached to the human host for instance, they head on to warm and moist areas like the armpits or groin areas then attach on the skin to bite and feed on blood.
Tick bites can be harmless or can cause serious medical problems. Some ticks do not carry diseases and their bites are typically harmless. However, tick bites are also able to transmit diseases from one host to another. Some of these ticks carry bacteria and transfer these to their hosts through a bite. A few examples of diseases that ticks may transmit include Lyme disease, Colorado tick fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Tularemia. Hard and soft female ticks are also thought to produce a poison that can cause tick paralysis among children. Most cases of tick bites suggest that a tick must be attached to the human host for about 36 to 48 hours in order to transmit the Lyme disease. Other types of diseases however only require about 4 hours or more for the tick to be attached to be transmitted.
So how long do tick bites last?
Tick bites will last depending if it is just a harmless bite or not. A non-infectious bite will improve after a few days or 72 hours to about a week. But if the bite has transmitted a disease, it may take longer to heal. Symptoms of Colorado fever for instance, may start to appear 3 to 6 days after a tick bite, and then succeeding symptoms will follow. A rash from the transmitted Lyme disease may also develop a few days to weeks after exposure to a tick bite. Appearance of symptoms will really depend on what type of disease was transmitted, but usually, incubation period occurs about 10-14 days after exposure.
Also, if the tick was not properly removed from its bite, then the bite may also take longer to heal. In order to properly remove ticks properly, the following steps must be followed to avoid further damage and complications:
- Use tweezers to remove the tick. Grab the tick as close to the mouth that is attached to the skin as possible. Never handle a tick with bare hands.
- Pull the tick straight out in a steady and firm way without twisting or jerking it to avoid mouth parts getting left behind.
- Never grab and squeeze the tick by its belly so as not to push infectious fluid to the body.
- Do not apply anything on the tick while attached to the skin, like rubbing alcohol, petroleum jelly, nail polish and others. This will further increase the risk of infection
- Do not try to burn the tick while attached to the skin
- After proper tick removal, wash the tick bite area and your hands with soap and water.
- Store the tick in a jar or ziplock for later use, as it may help with necessary identification purposes in cases of transmitted diseases.
How to treat and heal tick bites
Applying an ice pack on the tick bite for about 15 to 20 minutes once every hour for 6 hours will help with the pain or itching. If ice is not available, a cool wet cloth may be used. Application of over-the-counter topical or oral medications may also be done to relieve from pain, itching, redness or inflammation. Antihistamines may be taken orally to relieve from itching, redness and inflammation or oral pain relievers for pain; spray of local anesthetics for pain; or application of calamine lotion on the bite area for itching. It is always best to strictly follow medication instructions for use. If swelling has subsided after 6 hours, a warm washcloth may be applied on the bite area for comfort.