Deer tick on a blade of grass

Ticks: Myth vs. Fact

Summer is often thought of as tick season, but this is just one myth about these bloodsuckers. Ticks do not die off over the winter, nor do they stop looking for a host. They are on the hunt any time the temperature is over freezing.

Fortunately for us, nature’s little vampires can’t turn into bats, don’t require a silver bullet to kill or have the ability to suck all of our blood out in a matter of seconds. But they can leave behind diseases that, if left untreated, can affect us for the rest of our lives, namely Lyme disease.

According to Dr. Ameera Nauman, pediatrician with OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony’s Health Center, a lot of confusion still surrounds these little arachnids.

Myth: Once bitten, you are infected.

Fact: Not all ticks carry diseases, and the diseases carried by ticks are not spread by merely being bitten. It is estimated that in high-risk areas, only 2 percent of deer tick bites cause Lyme disease. And it is the toxins in the tick’s saliva that causes disease. In order to transmit a disease, a tick needs to be attached from between three to 96 hours, depending on the tick and the disease they are transmitting.

Myth:  You should remove a tick with a heat source or chemical.

Fact:  No. This myth is a home remedy idea for making the tick “back out.” All you need to remove a tick is a pair of tweezers, grasping as close to the skin as possible and slowly pulling the tick away without twisting. Not only can using a heat source be dangerous, it can cause infected saliva to be pushed into the bite increasing the chance for infection. After removal, wash the bite location with soap and water and monitor the location for symptoms.

Myth: Ticks only carry Lyme disease.

Fact:  While Lyme disease is the most common and well known tick-borne disease, the following tick-borne diseases have also been reported in the Midwest:

If you travel, go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and learn about other tick-borne diseases and the areas affected.

Myth: Stay out of the woods and you will be fine.

Fact:  Ticks don’t fall from trees. They live on the ground and migrate up a host before biting. Typically, a tick will travel long distances by riding on a host like a mouse, so you can encounter ticks in your yard or walking in any tall grass. However, you are more likely to encounter ticks in fields or wooded areas with tall foliage. If you are going to be in high-risk areas, try to make a clothing barrier to keep the ticks away from skin- tuck your pant legs into your socks and your shirt into your belt.

Myth: Ticks burrow under the skin.

Fact: A tick will feed until it becomes full and then fall off. This usually takes anywhere from three to six days. The area around the bite might start to swell around the head of the tick, but the tick does not burrow below the skin.

Myth: You will have a rash or bullseye around the bite if you are infected.

Fact: Not all people experience telltale signs of a transmitted disease. According to the CDC, only about 70 to 80 percent of people infected with Lyme disease get this type of rash. You could still be infected even if your skin doesn’t show it. If you suspect a tick-borne disease, talk to your primary care provider and explain when you were bit and what symptoms you have been experiencing. There are different lab tests designed to identify tick-borne disease.

To learn more about ticks and the diseases they carry, visit the OSF Health Library.