I remember the anxiety I felt after discovering a tick attached to my skin. I was reaching my hands behind my head and found a tick at the top of my neck where my hairline begins. The tick had already bitten me and was enlarged with blood. I never even felt the bite. That’s the tricky part about ticks, they crawl onto you and are so small they may be hard to see and nearly impossible to feel.
Why are these little creatures so dangerous?
Ticks can spread Lyme disease. Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria carried by an infected black-legged tick (also called a deer tick). This type of tick usually lives in wooded areas, like forests, or in places with high grass and bushes. A tick with Lyme disease can spread Lyme by biting you and has to be on your body for about 2 days before you can get infected.
If you get infected with Lyme disease during pregnancy, it may cause complications, including:
- An infection in the placenta. The placenta grows in your uterus (womb) and supplies your baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord.
- Stillbirth. This is when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
- Congenital heart defects. These are heart conditions that are present at birth. They can affect the heart’s shape or how it works, or both.
- Urinary tract defects. The urinary tract is the system of organs (like the kidneys and bladder) that helps your body get rid of waste and extra fluids. Urinary tract defects can cause pain, urinary tract infections, kidney damage and kidney failure.
- Problems with your baby’s blood, like hyperbilirubinemia, which is when your baby’s blood has too much bilirubin in it. Bilirubin is a yellow substance that forms as red blood cells break down. Too much bilirubin can cause your baby to have jaundice. This is when your baby’s skin and the white parts of his eyes look yellow because his liver isn’t fully developed or working properly.
Untreated Lyme disease also may cause your baby to have a rash after he’s born.
How do you know if you have Lyme disease?
Early signs may include: headache, fever and chills, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, swollen lymph nodes (glands throughout the body that help fight infection), and/or a rash called erythema migraines (also called EM). This rash looks like a bull’s eye around where the tick bit you.
Later signs may include: being short of breath, dizziness, stiff neck, severe headache, EM rash, joint pain and swelling, and/or facial paralysis (when you can’t feel or move parts of your face.)
If you have any signs or symptoms of Lyme disease, or you find a tick attached to your skin, call your health care provider. You can get a blood test to see if you have Lyme disease. Antibiotics are available and most women who get treatment during pregnancy have healthy babies.
Prevent Lyme disease by protecting yourself from tick bites
- Use an EPA registered insect repellant.
- Shower and check your body and clothes for ticks after being outside.
- If you find a tick on you, remove it with tweezers – be sure to grab the tick near its head. Slowly pull the tick up and off your skin and be sure not to squeeze or crush the tick. Check with your healthcare provider or local Department of Health as to whether you should bring it in to be examined and tested for Lyme disease. If not, flush the tick down the toilet. After removing the tick, clean the area with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.
For more information about Lyme disease and pregnancy, see our article.