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American Dog Tick Bite – Northern Illinois

My daughter got bitten by a tick.  First, she reported something itchy on her scalp.  Upon inspection, we noticed this tick:

male dog tick

Rather than looking online to see what to do, we removed it with our fingernails, removing a small piece of her scalp with it. You shouldn’t do that – you should remove it with a sharp pointed tweezers, grabbing as close to the skin as possible and gently pull it away, trying not to have it empty its saliva nor break off any pieces.  She told us she felt something strange on her scalp the day before and she thought maybe it was a piece of tape, as she said that sometimes happens when she plays with tape.  She said she pulled it off her scalp but then she dropped it and never found it so she didn’t think anything of it.

The next day, when she felt something itchy again, we took a look and found the above tick.  We assumed it was a tick she pulled off the previous day but dropped it in her hair, and it crawled back and reattached.  We took some pictures and then flushed it down the toilet.

I contacted our pediatrician and the nurse said to apply antibiotic ointment and keep an eye out for any rashes or fevers.  She also said lyme disease isn’t common in our area of northern Illinois, so it is not likely here.  I did also send them pictures of the tick. I’m guessing they didn’t look at it, but I was able to pretty easily identify the type of tick it is based on the markings on its back.  I went to the Illinois Department of Public Health tick identifier page and given the very distinct markings on the tick’s back, I am 99.9% sure that what I was looking at is a male American Dog Tick, also called dermacentor variabilis.

To make sure, I’ve sent a photo to the Tickspotters website.  Tickspotters and the entire University of Rhode Island tick encounter website is a fantastic resource.   I’ll update this post with any feedback they provide with this particular tick in the northern Illinois area.

Back to my daughter’s tick bite.  The good news with the American Dog Tick is that it does NOT carry lyme disease.  The bad news is that it can be a carrier for other infectious diseases, specifically Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), tularemia, and possibly ehrlichiosis.  Based on what I’ve read, only about 1 in 1000 dog ticks are carriers of infectious agents, so the risk is very, very low.  However, there is still some risk.  Also, I’m not sure that those numbers are still accurate, as I’m sure the prevalence of various infectious agents changes over time.

Because the prevalence is low, it is not recommended to treat with antibiotics prophylactically.

Two days later, my daughter is freaking out because she pulled another tick off her back.  I saved this one in case there is any reason to test it. It is also a male dog tick. You can get ticks tested for $50 through the  TickReport website.  If I had saved the first tick, I would have probably sent it in to get tested.  Since we didn’t save that tick and now have a second tick, I don’t think there will be any value in sending it in to get tested.  I figure I may as well save it for a month, just in case my daughter gets sick in the next 30 days.  Of course, this second tick may not have the same infectious agents as the first tick did, thus the limited value in even testing this one.

I did also find on the TickReport website a great database of their test results.  I was able to tell that since 2008, they have tested about 200 dermacentor ticks from Illinois, and they have all been negative for any infectious agents.  Being near the Wisconsin border, I checked the stats for Wisconsin.  They also had zero dermacentor ticks test positive for the typical infectious agents, testing around 200 ticks.

I then looked to see about testing dermacentor ticks for the entire country and out of 9000 ticks dermacentor ticks tested, zero tested positive for the causative agent for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.  There were about 2 in 1000 ticks with some infectious agent.

Overall, it seems extremely unlikely that the ticks that bit my daughter were carrying anything dangerous.  I’ll continue to monitor for fevers, rash, and headaches.

As to why she got two bites so far apart, the only thing we can think of is that the sweatshirt jacket that she wore to go hiking in the forest preserve may have snagged a few ticks from the walking trails.  She was wearing the sweatshirt jacket when she noticed the second tick bite.  Based on what I’ve read online, I put all of her recently worn clothes in the drier for 15 minutes.  Since her clothes needed to be washed, I then washed them in hot water and dried them again.

The worst part at this point is her having the weird feeling that there are ticks on her body all the time, as she is worried there will be another tick bite.  Hopefully she won’t have another tick bite for a long, long time.

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