It is in early spring that ticks reappear in forests, parks and gardens. Present everywhere in France, the tick is feared for its bites which can transmit Lyme disease. What are the symptoms of a tick bite? What is she like ? How to remove the tick and clean the bite? What application to detect their presence? Photos, treatments and advice from Séverine Carret, member of the France Lyme association, on how to behave.
[Mis à jour le mercredi 20 mai 2020 à 14h23] Ticks are very common in France, especially below 1,500 meters above sea level. These “wood lice” live in wooded and humid areas such as forests, tall grass of meadows, gardens and urban parks. So be careful with agricultural work and walks in the forest, which lead to contact with ticks. These insects attack mammals, birds and reptiles. Humans get stung more easily between early spring and late fall. A tick bite is generally not painful. But when the tick is infected and carries the “borrelia” bacteria, it can cause Lyme disease, an infectious pathology which is characterized by joint pain which can go as far as paralysis of the limbs. What does a tick bite look like? What are the symptoms ? How to clean it? What treatments to treat it?
Did a tick bite you or your pet? The National Institute for Agrifood Research (INRAE) invites the French to download Tick Reporting, a free app (a new version is available since May 18, 2020) to report tick bites in France. Thanks to the various reports, the application will allow researchers to create a map of the presence of these parasites in France and thus offer better prevention against the risks associated with tick bites. The first version, developed in 2017 by CiTIQUE with the Ministry of Solidarity and Health, has already made it possible to identify more than 23,500 bites throughout France and to send more than 20,000 ticks to the All Researchers laboratory of the INRAE Grand Center Is Nancy where they are archived in the only participative French “tiquotheque”.
“Originally, we are not the preferred hosts of ticks but occasional hosts, nevertheless we are more and more bitten” explains Séverine Carret of the France Lyme association. The tick, which belongs to the arachnid family (like mites and spiders) is hematophagus. In other words, it stings us to feed on our blood.
A tick evolves in three stages when it is female, two when it is male. “Each stage corresponds to a meal and a moult” specifies our interlocutor and she can prick us at each of the three:
- the larva stage (first meal), the tick has 6 legs and is the size of a poppy seed (0.5 to 1.5 mm).
- the nymph stage (second meal), it has 8 legs and is the size of a sesame seed (1 to 2 mm). “Nymphs are the most voracious, they are responsible for 70 to 80% of tick bites or bites“And also the most difficult to remove because they go deep into the skin.
- the adult stage (third meal for females): it is the size of a grain of corn (3 to 6 mm). “Only the female tick makes this last meal, the male eats little or no.”
You remark a black point in your skin (especially in hot and humid areas (behind the knee, calves, sometimes at the roots of the hair…)) and when you run your finger do you feel it stick? Take a closer look because the only way to spot and recognize a tick bite is to observe carefully. “The tick is planted perpendicular to the skin, it sinks in to access the small blood vessel, you can see its legs moving, specifies Séverine Carret. You can sometimes see it also go up on you but it is very rare. We usually see it when it’s encrusted. “ The tick bite is painless “because the tick secretes anesthetic substances“.
• Migrant erythema: redness around the bite
It is the fear of everyone who has been bitten by a tick: see the development of a circular red / pink plaque around the bite and which gradually widens then whitens in its center and disappears. The very characteristic ofmigrant erythema. “You can have such an erythema 3 to 30 days after the bite, it is a sign that the tick was infected with borrelia (bacteria causing Lyme disease) and that it infected you” explains Séverine Carret. If you experience erythema, see a doctor.
• Symptoms in humans
In most cases, the bite of ticks does not cause pain but it is easily identifiable on the skin because it can cause redness around the bite. In the hours that follow, itching can occur. One to two weeks after the bite, some people may have flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, or joint problems. For most people these symptoms go away within a few days but others may present complications several weeks after the bite, such as damage to the central nervous system, stiff neck, severe headaches, speech, walking or concentration disturbances … blood analysis by a doctor allows the diagnosis to be made. In the most severe forms, paralysis of the arms, legs or facial nerves can occur.
If you’ve been bitten by a tick, it must be removed. “The tick makes its meal over several days, it alternates aspirations of blood and rejection of the serum which does not interest it. The more it prolongs its meal, the more it gets sore, and the higher the risk of infection”, explains Séverine Carret. When she has finished her meal, she detaches herself and drops to the ground. When we remove it while it is encrusted, we disturb it in the middle of a meal, it can spit out what it has in the abdomen. However, it is in the digestive system and saliva that bacteria, viruses and fungi are concentrated. It must therefore be removed meticulously and entirely (the head must not remain in the skin) and not crush its abdomen.
• Use a tick
To remove a tick, you have to use a tick puller, nothing else. There are two sizes (for nymphs and for adult ticks). Slide the hook under the tick without crushing it as close to the skin. “Turn gently until it comes off without pulling, then throw it in the sink or fire and then disinfect the bite with an antiseptic” explains our interlocutor.
Please note: remove a tick with your nails, put a product on it before removing it (like ether or alcohol to put it to sleep), or take it with your hands because it can still bite. But use a handkerchief instead.
After removing the tick, you should observe the bite for 1 month. If a circular red plaque appears around, or if there are unusual signs (fatigue, headache, fever, body aches, paralysis, etc.), you should consult a doctor without delay.
In case of persistent or unusual symptoms suggestive of Lyme disease (body aches, joint pain, severe headache, fever, intense fatigue …), seek immediate medical attention. Based on blood tests, he can make a diagnosis and consider appropriate treatment. Since Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, treatment is based on taking an antibiotic (amoxicillin or doxycycline), sometimes combined with a corticosteroid.
In France, 5 hospitals are considered reference sites treatment of tick-borne diseases:
It is not because you have been bitten by a tick that you will systematically fall ill. “Not all ticks are infected, reminds our interlocutor, even if they are more and more and have more and more pathogens.“Likewise: you may have been infected with a tick and have nothing because your immune system was effective enough to protect you from infection. “You can also have been infected, keep the infection and be a healthy carrier.”
• Ticks and Lyme disease
A tick carrying the “borrelia” bacteria can transmit it to humans via saliva when it bites. He can develop “Lyme borreliosis” or “Lyme disease”. It is the main infection transmitted by ticks in France and Europe. It is a non-contagious infectious disease. This disease is difficult to diagnose because there are not always visible symptoms after an injection. When there is, it is migrant erythema. “You can also see nothing but have bizarre and unexplained symptoms like fatigue, joint problems, flu-like symptoms that can correspond to Lyme disease” explains Séverine Carret. It is then necessary to consult a doctor to set up an antibiotic treatment. Without treatment, Lyme disease causes serious complications with damage to the nerves, joints, heart and skin.
• Lyme test: Dr. Horowitz’s questionnaire
There is a questionnaire put together by Dr. Richard Horowitz to help with the diagnosis of Lyme disease. It does not replace the advice of a doctor but can help to know what are the chances of having Lyme disease or other infections caused by a tick.
• Other tick-borne diseases
Ticks can also transmit other bacteria, viruses (such as Esptein-Barr virus) and fungi causing infections such as meningoencephalitis (caused by an arbovirus that affects the central nervous system), pimple fever caused by the Rickettsia conorri bacteria which heals in 8 to 10 days after the bite and Powassan encephalomyelitis.
Tick season: bites in winter?
Ticks are most active between early spring and late fall, between April and November. Which doesn’t mean you can’t get bitten in winter. “They resist everything, explains Séverine Carret. When the weather conditions are not good, they go into diapause and wake up when the conditions are better. Extreme drought or extreme cold does not kill them. “
Ticks are present in the whole of France, and in Europe, below 1,500 meters above sea level and generally 1 meter or 1.20 meters from the ground. They are mostly found in woods, shaded wetlands, tall grass, gardens. “They have also now invaded city parks and highway areas, underlines our interlocutor. They are transported by birds and in hay, so they go from country to country. “
There are several tips to protect yourself from tick bites when you are out in the wild:
- Cover your arms and legs with long clothing.
- Tuck the bottom of the pants into the socks.
- Wear light clothing (caps also) to better identify them.
- Avoid brushy areas, ferns and tall grass.
- Walk the paths.
- Put repellant on the skin or clothes (respect the dose and the frequency indicated on the packaging).
- Take a tick and antiseptic in your backpack, just in case.
→ After the ride: you have to inspect your body and children from head to toe. Children especially love to roll in the grass or take the trails away from the paths in the forests. You have to look at their scalp, ears and folds (legs, arms …) when you get home. “And listen to them if they complain about being unusually tired or not well. You should not panic, but be vigilant “ concludes Séverine Carret.