Don’t become a tick-borne illness statistic…like me

The different sizes of a tick through it's life.

The different sizes of a tick through it’s life. I was bitten by the smallest nymph size. (This photo shows a black legged tick. I don’t know what kind bit me)

At least two dozen tiny nymph ticks clung tenaciously to my ankles and legs by the time I checked halfway through my hike. That was two and half weeks ago. Now I’m suffering the effects of tick-borne illness including a miserable rash extending from my ankles to my thighs.

When I found the ticks, they were so small that there was no way I could remove them properly, I just scraped them off my leg. Only one made it overnight. Soon the bites turned into itchy blisters driving me to madness. Then they became disgusting, red, and oozing sores.

As if that wasn’t enough, exactly two weeks later, a new rash revealed itself, filling in the space between bites. I also had a number of headaches and painful muscles aches in the days preceding the new rash. Googling my symptoms, I knew it was time to see a doctor.

I left the clinic with Prednisone and Doxycycline, but no definitive diagnosis of which tick-borne illness ailed me. My research leads me to think it may be Rickettsia parkeri, a disease resembling Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, but with blister-like lesions at the bite location and less severe symptoms.

Four days later, the rash is still raging, keeping me awake at night and nearly bringing me to tears at times. The Prednisone only marginally helps and then only for a few hours.

My legs today, 18 days following the tick bites

My legs today, 18 days following the bites and four days after receiving medical treatment.

Being an outdoor-adventure blogger, I felt the need to share my misery so that you may learn from my misfortune. Take it from me; prevention is a far better strategy than treatment. I’m even sharing a very unflattering photo to get your attention.

I usually wear long pants while hiking in Florida. However, the mosquito population was down and I thought frequent checks of my white socks would reveal ticks before they could latch on. I was wrong. These “nymph” ticks were so small I never saw them until I pulled back my socks and looked very close. A telltale itch was the only clue. I don’t react well to DEET products and I couldn’t find my natural spray that day, being an idiot, I headed out anyway. I had a classic case of “it can’t happen to me.”

Here are suggestions from the Florida Department of Health on prevention of tick bites:

  1. Apply repellent such as DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), picaridin, or IR3535 to prevent ticks from attaching to your skin. Repellents with permethrin can be used on clothing, shoes, tents, and gear.  Always follow product instructions!
  2. Dress so your skin is covered in light-colored clothing when you are in an area when ticks might be present.
  3. Walk in the center of the trail.
  4. Check your body and your child’s body for ticks after spending time in a place where ticks are likely to be found.
  5. Shower soon after being outdoors. Showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce your risk of being bitten by a tick.
  6. Check your pet for ticks.  Talk to your veterinarian about products that keep ticks off your pets.
  7. Prevent tick infestations around your home by landscaping your yard to be a tick-free zone.
  8. For more information, see Prevention of Tick-borne diseases

If all of your efforts to avoid the nasty scum fail, try to remove the ticks properly to minimize the chance of disease transmission. Here is a good resource on How to Remove a Tick

While Lyme disease gets a lot of press, it’s not the only tick-borne illness out there. Seek treatment if you develop fever/chills, aches/pain or a rash following a tick bite. Also, don’t forget to tell the doctor about your exposure to ticks. Treatment for many of the illnesses is the same.

I hope I have enlightened you and not just grossed you out. I’ve been bitten by ticks many times, but never thought I would become a tick-borne illness statistic. I hope my warning will make you take tick seriously on your next outing so that you may come home with nothing but great memories and pictures.

Comments

  1. says

    Aw hun, so sorry you are experiencing this.
    Ticks are not prevalent in my area, but when my son was 3, he got a tic in the arm pit from a hike we took. didn’t find it til the next day. ER pulled it out with tweezers. he was a bigger one. ick.

    but I’ve heard back East they are bad. my husband had the issue and his friend made him take a bath in bleach to rid of them. of course, this was done right after the hike. and he said it burned like heck.

    Hope you heal quickly! glad to hear the prednisone is offering a bit of relief.

    • Erika Wiggins says

      Thanks for the well wishes Christine! My mom swears by the bleach thing for chiggers (though I’m not sure it would be widely considered a safe idea.) I’m not sure I’ll be back out on my favorite trail for a while after this experience.

  2. says

    Omg.. I am SO sorry you are dealing with this! Thanks so much for the tips. Is it common everywhere in Florida for tick bites? I rarely wear pants in San Diego when hiking, but I’m going to now!!

    • Erika Wiggins says

      Ticks seem to be more of a problem in recent years where I live because we haven’t had a good freeze in awhile. I’m one of the few people I see who wears pants all the time, and I though maybe I was being too paranoid… I should have stuck to what I know works.

  3. says

    So sorry to hear. I have several relatives that have had or still have chronic tick related illnesses. Please keep up the treatments to make sure it’s gone. My Nephew has been fighting it for well over 4 years now and my sister-in-law was only just pronounced clear.

    I’m sure you’ve done your research, but if there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.

    Paul

  4. says

    Sorry to hear about your experience Erika! I’ve had the distasteful task of plucking numerous ticks off of myself and my dogs during my country wide journey, but mostly up north. Since I’m nearing on Florida I appreciate the reminder that they thrive in the south as well. Horrid little buggers! Hope you’re feeling better!!

  5. says

    Good information you passed along, here and sorry to hear of your misfortune. Ticks became so popular on my blog, I almost bought the domain name Tickinabellybutton.com
    Happens to me all the time !

  6. says

    I have to say… I HATE ticks… tick-phobia I got them once on my legs hiking in Hingham Massachusetts and since then can’t stand them. Great information here Erika! :-)

    • Erika Wiggins says

      It will take me a while to get over this mentally. By far it has been the most miserable rash I have ever had. It only started to improve about three days ago. Thanks Tim!

  7. says

    Glad you’ve made a strong recovery. I had the Malaria down in the Dominican Republic a few years back. It didn’t show up until after I was back for a few weeks. All these insect vectored illnesses can lay dormant for a while and then BOOM they get you. Keep up the good work.

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