UofL Physician pediatricians emphasize that tick-borne diseases exist but are rare

Published on May 17, 2018

Kentucky parents concerned about tick-borne diseases can relax a bit, say pediatricians with the University of Louisville Department of Pediatrics. While ticks and tick bites are common here, the diseases that ticks carry and transmit are rare – so much so that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not recommend routinely giving preventive antibiotics to people who have had a tick bite and are otherwise well.

Recent media reports have indicated concern about ticks in New Jersey that can transmit SFTS – severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome. Thrombocytopenia is a decrease in blood platelets, which are cells that help form clots.

However, the tick carrying SFTS is not found in Kentucky, so physicians and public health officials are less concerned about this condition in the Commonwealth. The same is true about the tick that carries Lyme disease, the deer tick with the species name Ixodes scapularis. This tick is much less common in Kentucky than it is in coastal New England, where Lyme disease is frequently seen, Marshall said. The immature forms of ticks common to Kentucky, such as the dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) and the lone star tick (Ambylomma americanum) can be mistaken for the tiny deer tick.

“You do not need to bring your child to the doctor if he or she has an attached tick but is otherwise well,” said Gary S. Marshall, M.D., who practices with UofL Physicians – Pediatric Infectious Diseases. “You should remove the tick and watch for signs of illness such as fever, headache, nausea, rash or sensitivity to light; if these conditions occur, then bring your child in to see your pediatrician immediately.

Victoria A. Statler, M.D., also with UofL Physicians – Pediatric Infectious Diseases, concurs. “While tick bites are common during the warmer months in Kentucky, tick-borne diseases are rare,” she said. “The vast majority of bites never result in any disease.”

The CDC notes there is no need to panic if you find a tick attached to your child. There are several tick removal devices on the market, but a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers will remove a tick quite effectively. The CDC offers these steps to safely remove a tick:

  1. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible.
  2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or soap and water.
  4. Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.

Do see your doctor if symptoms occur, said Statler. “If you have fever and any combination of rash, headache, light sensitivity, muscle aches and pains or nausea during tick season, see a doctor, whether you’ve had a tick bite or not,” she said.

To make an appointment with UofL Physicians - Pediatric Infectious Diseases, call 502-588-2348. After 5 p.m. on weekdays and on weekends, call Norton Children's Hospital at 502-629-6000.