If you played outside a lot growing up or are an avid hiker, you’ve probably heard time and time again that you should *always* do a tick check when you come inside. But given that ticks are teeny-tiny and easy to overlook on your body, you might not always catch one or even realize a tick bit you until it’s too late and symptoms start to hit you.
Nearly 60,000 tick-borne illnesses were reported in 2017 in the United States, following a trend of steadily increasing cases each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And a rise in tick-borne illnesses—two of the best-known in humans are Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever—isn’t something to take lightly, as these conditions can make you feel pretty sick. If left untreated, they can cause a host of serious, long-term symptoms, ranging from arthritis to cardiovascular and neurological problems.
Don’t worry: Finding a tick on your body after a weekend camping trip is not a guarantee that you’ll be plagued with illness, according to Walter Schrading, MD, director of the Office of Wilderness Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “The tick bite itself is not dangerous and doesn’t cause any symptoms or rash unless it’s carrying one of the major diseases we worry about,” Dr. Schrading explains. “Otherwise, the tick can just be removed with tweezers, [with nothing but] local irritation around the bite.”
Hopefully you already know that prevention (i.e. wearing long sleeves and pants outside and loading up on insect repellents that contain DEETor permethrin) is the best way to avoid contracting a tick-borne illness this summer. But if it’s too late for prevention, here are six photos to help you figure out whether that bite could be from a tick, plus what to expect next if it is.