by David Moore
Manager of Technical Services and Board Certified Entomologist
with contributions by Eric Smith, PhD, BCE
Since it is summer, it seems that everyone is out having fun camping, hiking, or cleaning up their yards. As much fun as it is to play outdoors, people and their pets might find themselves being exposed to environments that could harbor ticks. Ticks carry a variety of disease causing organisms in North America including: Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, eastern equine encephalitis, Lacrosse encephalitis, and a few others. Additionally, ticks can cause paralysis if it attaches in the right spot on the human body.
As with anything, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In order to prevent ticks from getting on us and our loved ones, we need to take some proactive measures. The first thing we can do is avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. We can do this by walking in the center of trails as much as possible. Most ticks climb up on low-lying vegetation and grasses/weeds along trails frequented by their hosts. Here, they cling to the vegetation with their hind legs and wait for a host to pass. As the host brushes against the vegetation, they grab on with their front legs and that is how they get their meal.
Next, let’s look at what we are wearing. Wearing light colored long sleeved shirts and long pants with the legs tucked into our socks will help prevent ticks from becoming embedded on you. The light colors make is easy to spot the ticks. Having your limbs covered helps prevent ticks from being exposed to your skin, and tucking your pant legs into your socks helps to prevent ticks from crawling up your legs unnoticed. You can use some duct tape around the ends of the pants to help prevent exposure further. Don’t forget to wear some sort of insect repellant with 20-30% DEET in it on your skin and a Pyrethrin insecticide on your clothing. Wash this product off your skin after you are done to reduce your exposure to the insecticide. If you are traveling with a friend, make sure you check each other for ticks to reduce exposure.
Oh no! Your friend found a tick on you during your post hike inspection-no need to panic. It usually takes at least 6 hours of attachment before the tick can transmit a disease to a host. There are some simple things you can do to remove the tick. First, let’s carefully remove the tick from your body. Grab the tick as close to your skin as possible with some tweezers and then slowly pull the tick out. You should be pulling the tick out by grasping its mouthparts with the tweezers. If you grasp the tick by its abdomen, you may force its internal juices containing disease organisms into yourself. There are also tick removal tools that are available if you feel more comfortable with that option. Don’t forget to clean the wound to prevent an infection.
If you are in your yard, there are some things we can do to reduce the risk to your family. First, let’s reduce the number of harborage points for smaller animals to live at. Removing any food debris, sealing up any holes in a structure, keeping your grass cut, and eliminating any locations on your property where small animals could live is a good start. Deer passing through a yard can be an introduction of ticks to an environment as well. A pesticide can be applied as a preventative or reactionary measure. You should treat potential tick habitats such as along trails, fence lines, and high grass areas with a properly labeled insecticide.
When you are done with your fun in the sun, don’t forget to check your belongings. Ticks are pretty good hitchhikers, and your backpack can bring them to your house as well. If you do suspect or find ticks on your clothing, you can launder them and it will kill the ticks.
If you suspect tick harborage points in your yard, I would recommend getting a pest management provider to inspect your yard and guide you through the process of what physical modifications you should make and if a chemical approach is necessary.