By Kim Robson:
This time of year, we’re spending a lot of time outdoors, and we’re likely to encounter ticks. I’m grateful that my pup has short, light-colored fur, as it makes spotting ticks on him that much easier. Tick bites are not only painful and annoying, but they can lead to Lyme disease, which is possible to contract in other ways; but, by far, ticks are the main culprits.
In addition to Lyme disease, other tick-borne infectious diseases can include these:
- Spotted fever rickettsiosis
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Colorado tick fever
While these diseases are rare, they are responsible for several thousand tick-related illnesses in the U.S. each year.
Cases of tick-borne disease are found most often around the northeastern United States, but at least one case of tick-borne Lyme disease has occurred in every state, according to the Center for Disease Control. Hot spots include
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- West Virginia
Maine, Vermont and Pennsylvania have the highest rates of Lyme cases. Wisconsin, Minnesota and parts of Michigan are also experiencing an increase in cases in recent years.
The CDC is monitoring these upward trends in numbers of tick-borne disease. Spokesperson Rebecca Eisen, a research biologist from the National Center for Infectious Diseases, says, “Since the late 1990s, the number of reported cases of Lyme disease in the United States has tripled, and the number of counties in the northeastern and upper Midwestern United States that are considered high risk for Lyme disease has increased by more than 300 percent. One explanation for this trend is that the ticks that can transmit Lyme disease have expanded their geographic range and are now being found in places they weren’t seen twenty years ago.”
If you live in one of these areas, or spend any time hiking outdoors, there are steps you can take to prevent tick bites. As soon as you get home from hiking, toss your clothes into the dryer for ten minutes on high heat to kill any ticks hiding in your clothing. Then take a shower to get rid of any unattached ticks. Then, do a thorough Tick Check. Ask your spouse and help your kids to check hard-to-see areas like your backside or the nape of your neck.
Ticks can be as small as a poppy seed. They prefer warm, moist, covered parts of the body:
- Behind the knees
- In or around ears
- Around the crotch
- Waistband / belly button
Also, thoroughly run your fingers through your hair, especially at the hairline and nape of your neck, feeling for bumps. For comprehensive instructions on how to conduct a thorough tick check, click here.
What To Do If You Find a Tick
If you find an attached tick, the best removal method is to use an inexpensive tick removal tool. It has a narrow groove that slides between the tick and the skin, allowing you to twist and lift it out safely.
If you don’t have a tick removal tool, use a pair of tweezers or your fingertips. But be sure to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible to avoid breaking off its head and leaving it in your skin. Pull firmly and straight out. Place the tick into a Ziploc bag, mark it with the date, and put it in the freezer. This saves it for identification if symptoms appear later. Wash the area with soap and water, and apply an antimicrobial salve.
DON’T use any other remedies such as burning the tick with a match head or “smothering” it with oil or Vaseline. These only irritate the tick, which can cause it to empty its stomach contents (pathogens included) into your bloodstream.
If caught early and handled properly, the risk of illness is low, but be on the lookout for persistent relapsing fever and chills, a bullseye-shaped rash centered around the bite, headaches, chronic joint pain and swelling, allergic reactions, chronic fatigue, and even serious and debilitating autoimmune disorders. Lyme disease is often difficult to diagnose. For a complete list of symptoms, check the CDC’s website here.
Tick Prevention Tips:
Clear Your Yard
- Keep the grass trimmed. Ticks like to climb up tall grasses and wait for something to come along and brush against them.
- Thin out overgrown landscaping.
- Mulch the garden with cedar chips, which ticks don’t like.
- Backyard chickensare CHAMPS at finding and eating ticks!
Use DIY Bug Spray
For many of us, using DEET or other chemical repellents is NOT an option. Try a natural DIY bug spraymade from essential oils.
Stay Smart Outdoors
- Wear light-colored clothing.
- Tuck your pants into your socks.
- Stay on trails.
- Carry a roll of Scotch tape and a Ziploc bag to capture any ticks found on you.
- Check dogs and cats thoroughly as well.
This handy tick identification chartwith pictures sorts ticks by region, type, stages of maturity, stages of feeding, and which diseases each tick might carry. Deer ticks are the main ones to watch out for, but all ticks can potentially cause problems.