Growing in population throughout the country, tick prevention should be on your radar. Here's what you need to know about these pests, prevention, bite care, and diseases they can spread.
Expect to keep hearing about ticks for the next few months—it's tick season, and the problem with these pests is expected to be especially bad in 2018. The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) released its Bug Barometer™ Forecast for this year, and they foresee high populations of pests across the board. Although mosquitoes and ants will be populous, NPMA notes that "Tick populations will continue to boom with the onset of even warmer weather ahead.” With Lyme disease cases and other tick-borne health concerns on the rise, it's important to know how to identify ticks, how to remove them, and what measures to take to deter ticks from entering nearby outdoor spaces.
All About Ticks
There are seven types of ticks present in the United States. The most notorious for spreading diseases are black-legged ticks (Ixodes) and the Rocky Mountain wood ticks. These members of the arachnid family are extremely small and can look like a birthmark or mole. Ticks live in grassy or wooded areas, or on animals and attach to skin and feed on blood. They're often found on warmer areas of the body like the scalp, between the legs, and under the arms.
A tick can climb on you at any time spent outside, even in your own neighborhood. To try and prevent them, treat clothing and outdoor gear with permethrin products. Also be sure to take insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, or lemon eucalyptus oil on long outdoor trips, and apply to yourself often.
After being outside, check clothing for ticks and remove. If you are coming from an area known to have ticks, wash and dry clothes on high heat, as cold and medium temperatures will not kill ticks. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce your risk of getting tick-borne diseases. The shower is also a good place to conduct a tick check on your body.
Dogs and cats are susceptible to tick bites and diseases. Ask your vet about tick prevention products like collars, salves, and medicines to keep your pet tick-free. Check all pets for ticks, especially after they spend time outdoors. While outdoor cats can also get ticks, they're much more sensitive to certain chemicals often found in tick-preventative products. Ask your vet before applying any products on a cat.
In the Yard
Pesticides can reduce the number of ticks in your yard, but should not be the only preventative method used. You can reduce black-legged ticks in your yard with landscaping techniques. Remove leaf litter and tall grasses, as ticks tend live in these types of environments. Mowing frequently also helps. The CDC recommends placing a 3-foot-wide barrier of wood chips or rocks between lawns and wooded areas to restrict tick migration to living spaces. Since ticks can live on animals like deer, raccoons, and strays, consider adding a fence to keep unwelcome animals out.
The key to avoiding tick-borne diseases is to remove them as soon as possible. The CDC says that if you remove a tick within 24 hours, you'll significantly lower your chances of getting Lyme disease. There are many "home remedies" that make ticks detach from the skin, like painting the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick back out from being burrowed into skin. While these methods may work, the CDC says "Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible—not wait for it to detach."
Their recommended method is using a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers. Use the tweezers to grab the tick as close to the surface of the skin as you can, then pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't pull too fast or twist the ticks—they burrow their mouths into the skin, and being too aggressive can break off the mouth parts, leaving them in the skin. After removing the tick, clean the bite and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
You also need to dispose of the tick methodically. Never crush a tick with your fingers—they can survive being hit with a hammer, so crushing them will not work. Instead, put it in alcohol, place it in a sealed bag or container, wrap it tightly in tape, or flush it down the toilet.
Diseases and Symptoms
Ticks can spread a number of diseases, the most common being Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), and anaplasmosis. A single tick bite can spread multiple diseases at once, and symptoms of these diseases may not appear until days after a tick bite. The most common symptoms of tick-borne diseases are fever, aches, and a rash. Lyme disease can present itself with a bull's eye-like rash, but not every case of Lyme disease presents a rash. RMSF can cause someone to develop a pink rash that starts on wrists, forearms, and ankles before spreading to the torso. If you experience any of these symptoms after a tick bite, see a doctor immediately. Paralysis, while rare, is also possible, and should be addressed immediately.