The concerns associated with tick bites are well-founded, but awareness and a few simple precautions are effective measures at combatting ticks. This summer the fun and fascination of nature await outdoor enthusiasts, so don’t let the fear of tick bites keep you indoors.
Here below are 5 simple strategies which you can adopt which will minimize the likelihood of tick-related problems for your family. Be sure to pass along this information to your children, as this is basic knowledge which young people can understand and implement.
1. Recognize tick habitat
Ticks vary in size and some can be nearly impossible to spot with the naked eye. So rather than look for ticks, look for tick habitat and then apply proper precautions against coming into contact with them. Ticks occur mostly in tall grass and wooded areas. In tall grass ticks are well situated to crawl on to passing animals and people as their legs brush against the grass. So when you are in this type of environment, be prepared to take a few precautions against ticks.
Ticks do not jump out of trees onto people passing below. They tend to remain low even on tall grass because they avoid sunlight and the drier conditions at the top of the grass. If a tick has transferred to your body, or your pets’, it may take several hours before it attaches to its host. This gives you a window of time to inspect and remove a tick before it begins to bite.
2. Prune shrubs back from walkways and keep your lawn cut short.
Because ticks are sensitive to dry conditions and do not thrive in short vegetation, they are seldom a problem in well-maintained lawns. Keep your grass mowed and keep weeds cut.
Prune back any tall decorative grasses and shrubs which may brush against people or pets passing by. Keep yard and play areas free of debris like grass clippings and leaf piles. Ticks cannot jump (contrary to popular myth), they can only crawl directly from a low branch onto a passing surface. So if the vegetation is pruned back a bit, anyone passing by will be safe from ticks.
3. Wear protective clothing when hiking in tick habitat.
When you are hiking through brushy or grassy areas, wear loose-fitting, summer weight light-colored long pants. Wear light colored socks and tuck the pants into the socks. Tape closed any openings in your clothes. Wearing light colors makes it easier to notice if a tick has landed on your clothing, and it is then easy to flick away since it has not begun to bite, which anchors it more firmly to its host.
Wearing protective clothing is the single best measure you can take to protect yourself from tick bites. Inspect the clothing as you remove it to ensure that no tick is hidden in any of the folds. Then put the clothes in the dryer set on high heat to kill any ticks which you may have missed.
4. Use a tick repellent if you will be spending time in tick habitat.
Permanone, a permethrin-based repellent designed for clothing use exclusively, is used to deter ticks. However it’s safety for users is uncertain. Permethrin is a synthetic pyrethroid repellent/insecticide. The risks for effects associated with the use of Permanone Tick Repellent on human clothing were evaluated in a research study in 1994. Generally, a margin of safety of at least 100 is desirable when the Non-Observed Effect Level (NOEL) is based on animal data to allow for interspecies and intraspecies variation. The margins of safety for acute, subchronic and chronic effects were all greater than 100 for both the general public and park and forestry workers. Like DEET-based formulations, these repellents should be used with discretion, if at all.
Herbal Armor is a permethrin-free (and DEET-free) alternative which only uses natural ingredients. It has been proven to be 100% effective for over two hours, 95.8% effective for three hours and 77.1% effective for four hours. This product was awarded Best Gear of the Year by National Geographic, a significant endorsement.
It is advisable to always use restraint in applying repellents. A basic premise of toxicology is that at a high enough dose, virtually all substances will cause some toxic manifestation.
5. Do regular tick checks on yourself, children and especially pets.
Perhaps the most common way ticks find their way into your home is in the fur of your dog or cat, especially if your pet runs free in wild grassy areas. The tick can then migrate to a family member. Ticks take between 12 and 24 hours to settle in to feed; because of this, regular checks can be very effective. Use a fine-tooth tick comb to groom your pet, with extra attention given to the undersides of the body and tail, the head and behind the ears. A second person is often useful to thoroughly scan hard-to-see areas.
Have your children been playing out in the fields? A quick inspection when they return home will likely identify any unwanted hitch-hiking ticks, which can then be easily removed using a tweezers. Use your hands when inspecting for ticks because your hands may feel the small tick nymphs which your eye might not see. Instruct your child about the basics of tick prevention, and ask your child to report any itchiness associated with an insect bite.
Hunters should be extra vigilant
Hunters are particularly susceptible to tick bites because they spend a lot of time in the field and woodlands where ticks proliferate. Some hunters prefer not to use any scent-based tick repellent since the scent may be picked up by the prey species. Deer are known to commonly carry ticks, so when a hunter is field-dressing or butchering a deer there is increased likelihood that a tick will crawl on to the hunter. Hunters should always wear protective clothing and perform a self-examination after the hunt.
If you do get a tick bite, look for the indicator rash which is associated with Lyme’s disease
Tick bites often come and go like mosquito bites, unnoticed among the many bites, scratches and bumps that come with summer outdoor activities. The main concern associated with tick bites is Lyme’s disease. There is an indicator rash that appears with a tick bite which may carry Lyme’s disease which is larger than 2 inches across, and looks like a bull’s eye.
The indicator rash occurs in about 75% of cases or people infected with Lyme disease. The rash usually appears about one week after the tick bite, but it can take up to four weeks to appear in some cases. The rash commonly (but not always) has a “bull’s eye” appearance of varying size, and it may be as large as 12” in diameter. If this rash appears, it should be reported to your family physician right away. If you experience an unexplained illness accompanied by fever following a tick bite, even if an indicator rash does not appear, this should still be reported to your doctor. Lyme’s disease can be treated with antibiotics, but complications may persist in some cases.
How to remove a tick
The best way to remove a tick is to grasp it firmly with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and gently, but firmly, pull it straight out. Do not twist or jerk the tick. If tweezers are not available, grasp the tick with a piece of tissue or cloth or whatever can be used as a barrier between your fingers and the tick. Ticks can be safely disposed of by placing them in a container of soapy water or alcohol, sticking them to tape or flushing them down the toilet. If you want to have the tick identified, put it in a small vial of alcohol.
The concerns about Lyme Disease are well founded, but the incidence is low compared to the great number of people who enjoy the outdoors each summer. So our best advice is to become familiar with the hazards associated with ticks and how best to avoid them, but remember to keep this information in perspective. Don’t let the fear of ticks keep you and your pets from enjoying the outdoors this summer.