You may already know that it’s paramount to take preventative measures to proactively check for ticks during the warmer months. However, we are here to help you further understand when, where and how to protect you and your family from tick bites.
Prevention is the most important step to combat these disease-transmitting terrors. A single bite from its horrific mouth can release a cocktail of dangerous saliva that can infect you with a tick-borne illness such as Lyme Disease. Even the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote in the fourth century B.C. that ticks are “disgusting parasitic creatures”.
A bite from an infected tick can quickly become a personal nightmare, resulting in lost time from school or work, mental anguish and sometimes permanent physical disability. In rare cases, it can become life-threatening.
Keep in mind that the numbers of tick-borne diseases in the U.S. have been on the rise in recent years. According to a CDC study published in February, an estimated 476,000 people were infected with Lyme disease from 2010 to 2018.
Virtually everyone is at risk of contracting a tick-borne infection. Your chances of being bitten is significantly higher, especially if your recreational or work activities take you into forested areas. Campers, hikers and hunters face a special danger because of the time spent in tick-infested environments.
Even simple outdoor tasks such as gardening and yard work can expose you to these disease-transmitting arachnids. Owning a pet can also put you at an increased risk of being bitten and infected with a tick-borne disease.
To best avoid becoming their host, read on to learn about a few preventative tips to help keep you and your loved ones safe.
When Does Tick Season Start?
After a long winter, all of us suffer from “cabin fever”, nobody wants to be stuck inside. As the weather gets warmer you might be itching to get back outside for a hike, clean your yard or begin gardening. Do you need to be concerned and start taking preventative measures against ticks and the debilitating diseases they carry? Absolutely!
March and April are prime months when you should start thinking about these bloodsucking arachnids. According to the tick activity tracker, run by the University of Rhode Island’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease, your chances of coming into contact with ticks are high in numerous areas of the United States.
Of course, tick activity varies depending on the location and species of tick. In areas with warmer winters or tropical climates, tick behavior will not significantly vary.
For example, the Lone Star tick is the most aggressive and common human biting tick in Florida. Its larvae are abundant from June-November, nymphs February-October and adults April-August and peak in July. Although the larvae do not carry disease, nymphal and adult stage bites can transmit pathogens that cause Ehrlichiosis, Tularemia and several other infections.
However, other species such as a Blacklegged tick (or Deer tick) can survive the coldest winter months in New Jersey. It can emerge and resume its search for a blood meal whenever the temperature is above freezing and the ground is not blanketed with snow. Its larvae are abundant from late July-August, nymphs April-July and adults mid October-early December. A single bite from an infected nymph or adult tick can transmit pathogens that cause Lyme disease, Babeosis and several other life-altering infections.
We may have been kept indoors during the winter, but once we head out to camp, hike, hunt, garden or run, our activity patterns spike. However, always be aware that you can unknowingly pick up a hungry bloodsucker. Always be proactive and protect yourself.
Now it’s important to understand where ticks lurk, patiently waiting to ambush an unsuspecting host.
Where Are You Most Likely To Encounter Ticks?
Knowing some basic information about the types of environments in which ticks live can significantly help you limit your exposure and avoid encounters when venturing out into tick territory.
Generally, tick populations tend to be in higher elevation, in grassy and wooded areas where they feed on animals such as birds, deer, lizards, rabbits, squirrels, mice, other rodents and unfortunately humans. Highly adaptable, they can also be found on beaches in coastal areas, suburban and urban environments.
They also prefer moist and humid environments which tend to be closer to the ground such as grassy areas, fallen branches, logs, and tall brush. In their early lifecycle stages, larvae and nymphs are frequently found in piles of decomposing leaves under trees.
Not only do these conditions exist in the wilderness, they are also found in parks, picnic areas, fields and even in your backyard. These unwanted guests can also end up in your home by attaching to your pet, a person and even your clothing.
For example, a tick has latched onto your pet and gorged on its blood. Once full, it simply falls onto your carpet and crawls around. Eventually, its stomach starts growling and hunts down another host. There is always the risk that you may become its next meal. If it’s a pregnant female, you may have a disgusting infestation on your hands.
A few examples to keep a very close eye out for ticks are as follows:
- Wood piles - which often harbor mice and other rodents that ticks feed on.
- High grassy areas / overgrown fields.
- Wooded areas.
- Leaf piles / decomposing leaves under trees.
- Stone walls and other features that retain moisture.
- Overgrown shrubs.
- Bird feeders - because they can invite tick attracting wildlife.
- Unkempt treelines.
- Dog houses.
- Dwellings with mice or rodent infestations.
- Old cabins.
- Your garden.
- Your own backyard.
Now that you are aware of the various environments to watch out for ticks, exercising diligence by taking proactive measures is important. Thus, it's important to know how to avoid becoming a tick’s meal.
How To Create A Tick-Free Zone Around Your House.
It’s important to remember that ticks are found wherever their hosts are found. When not attached feeding on hosts, they are found in woodlands and forests, including the woods in your own backyard.
What’s the second most popular gathering place? Horrifically, your own lawn. The lawn’s edge is especially popular with mice and other small animals which are the preferred meals of nymphal ticks, particularly if your property borders woods or is marked by a stone wall.
Lucky for you, there are numerous preventative measures you can take to significantly reduce the risk of contracting a tick-borne disease right in your own backyard. The main goal of property modification is to establish a tick-free zone in well-traveled areas on your property.
Ticks thrive in humid, shady, overgrown areas. Your goal is to reduce the humidity on the ground and remove vegetation that attracts hosts such as mice and other rodents that bring ticks close to your home.
Your time is absolutely worth the effort because it will significantly reduce the chances of you, a loved one and friends from being bitten by an infected tick. Remember, maintaining a groomed landscape is one means of controlling tick population.
Simple techniques that will help create a tick-free zone around your house:
- Prune or eliminate trees and overhanging branches and clear away brush so that more sunlight and air reach the soil. Ticks are extremely vulnerable to dehydration and sunlight is nature’s weapon.
- Move the forest and the ticks it may contain. Extend areas of open lawn around your home.
- Remove leaves, branches and other vegetative litter on your lawn.
- Keep your lawn well-manicured. Mow your grass regularly to reduce ground-level humidity. This allows sunlight to prevent ticks from populating.
- Stack wood neatly in a dry area to discourage rodents.
- If there are fields as part of your property, keep them trimmed to about 3 inches high.
- Widen trails and walkways so they are approximately 6 feet wide, and make extra efforts to keep them clear of brush.
- Move your outdoor clothesline to an open area of your lawn so draped sheets and blankets don’t touch grass or brush.
- Separate your well-manicured lawn from perimeter brush by a several-foot-wide strip of wood chips, gravel, or mulch around the edge of your yard.
- If you are setting up lawn furniture or your child’s swing set, place it in a sunny dry area in the backyard and away from wooded areas.
- Keep decks and patios away from yard edges and trees.
- Avoid overwatering your garden and yard, ticks prefer moist environments.
- Remove any old furniture, mattresses or trash from the yard that may give ticks a place to hide.
- If you want to control ticks without chemicals, try planting Chrysanthemum CinerariaeFolium. This plant has high levels of pyrethrins and helps to dispel ticks naturally.
- Consult a professional for pesticide application.
Keep up with your weekly outdoor cleaning during the spring, summer and fall seasons. Any unattended part of your yard can attract ticks. The more you monitor tick-attractive spaces outdoors the less likely you and your family will be exposed.
Why Is Host Management Another Part Of Creating A Tick-Free Zone Around Your Home?
Host management is another important part of creating a tick-free zone around your home. By modifying your landscape, you make it less attractive to animals that serve as tick hosts.
It’s important to understand how ticks contract diseases from their hosts. For example, Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia Burgdorferi. Wild animals, especially mice and deer (hosts), can carry the bacteria in nature. During its lifecycle, a tick acquires the bacteria from feasting on an infected host and contracts the bacterium present in the blood. Now that the tick is infected, a single bite can transmit Lyme disease to you or your pet.
Examples of hosts you may encounter in your backyard are:
- Unfortunately, our pets.
Ticks don’t aggressively hunt down their prey. In fact, these sedentary bloodsuckers travel less than ten feet throughout their life. So how do they get into your backyard? They simply catch a ride on any of the above-mentioned hosts.
When they latch on to birds, mice or deer, they can travel for miles. Once they complete their blood meal, they simply fall off the host and onto your lawn. Due to the endless hitchhiking possibilities, it's no wonder that infected ticks keep appearing in new places.
Reduce your risk of being bitten by discouraging tick carry hosts. Simple techniques you can implement are as follows:
- Erect a eight - ten foot fence around your property, which discourages deer and reduces the tick larvae and nymph population in your backyard.
- Eliminate deer salt licks.
- Use repellents. Homemade and commercial repellents are common control methods to discourage deer, but their effectiveness and success are dependent on several factors. Most have a bitter or foul odor, which discourages deer from feeding. Snow and rainfall can dissipate some materials so reapplication is frequently needed. Some repellents simply don't weather well, even without rain. If food sources are scarce, deer may ignore the repellents, despite the taste or odor.
- Eliminate bird feeders and bird baths.
- Remove wood and rock piles that provide breeding grounds and homes for chipmunks, mice and other small animals.
- Remove garbage and move garbage cans further away from your house and make sure the lids are tightly secured.
- Acquire a dog - a loud bark will scare off many animals and birds.
- Never move livestock or pets to a new area until you are certain it’s tick-free. Otherwise, they become hosts to welcoming ticks.
- Never take in stray or wild animals. Of course, the danger of rabies is well-established, but you significantly increase your chances of befriending a tick-infested host.
- Add garden-protecting fences and netting to deter hosts from feeding on your vegetables.
- Always check your pet before they enter your home. Ticks can hitchhike their way into your home and subsequently make you their next host.
- Consult a professional for host management.
Realistically, host management is a never-ending battle. One simply can’t deter all of the above-mentioned hosts from entering your yard. However, if you do absolutely nothing, consider the alternative. The best management strategy starts with prevention.
How To Prevent Ticks From Entering Your Homes.
Your home serves as living quarters, is the place where comfort is found, where memories are stored and family bonds are strengthened. That being said, ticks can find a final resting place in your sanctuary by simply attaching to a pet, person or items of clothing and hitching a ride through the front door. The last disgusting memory anyone needs is being bitten by a tick in their own home!
Once these unwelcomed disease-ridden bloodsuckers enter your home, they will either fall off or finish their blood meal. Literally, you, your family and pet are at risk of being victimized in your home. Once they fall off onto your bed, floor or rug, they begin searching for another host or a way out. Make no mistake, they will feed on you while you are comfortably asleep.
Certain species of ticks can live and thrive in your humble abode. For example, the Brown Dog Tick (that may transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to humans and Canine Ehrlichiosis and Canine Babesia) are notorious for infesting homes once brought inside, typically via pets such as dogs.
Once quietly inside, female ticks will dislodge themselves from a host and lay eggs in any crack or crevice they can find. Ultimately, it causes an explosion of thousands of immature ticks crawling around after a few weeks.
These menaces head for higher areas, so eggs are commonly deposited in openings near ceilings, wall hanging or roofs, increasing their chances of encountering a host. They can also be located in cracks around baseboards, door and window frames. Females lay eggs in masses of 1,000-3000. Once they hatch, larval ticks are starving and will feed on you or your unsuspecting pets.
Most alarming are both adult and larval dog ticks that can survive in your home without feeding for up to eight months. Undetected, they simply crawl about, breed, lay eggs, wait, watch and ultimately decide on their next blood meal.
Simple techniques to avoid these bloodsuckers from entering your home are as follows:
Perform a tick check: conduct body checks immediately after returning from outdoor activities (especially in tick-infested areas). Use a mirror if necessary and check all bodily areas.
Remember, ticks love dark moist areas: pay specific attention to the following bodily areas:
- Your armpits.
- Behind your ears.
- The back of your neck.
- Inside your belly button.
- Around your waist.
- Along your hairline and hair.
- Behind your knees.
- Areas with folded skin.
- Your groin area.
- Ladies, pay specific attention to your bra line and underneath your breasts, that’s a tick’s dream spot.
Shower as soon as possible: this will scrub away unattached ticks (which can be as small as a poppy seed or easily mistaken for a fleck of dirt) crawling on your body reducing your risk of tick-borne disease - when you lather up. If a tick is attached, water alone will not do the trick, because you need a bit of resistance to remove it. So grab your loofah!
Examine your gear: remember, ticks are masterful hitchhikers. Pay close attention to backpacks, clothing, game bags, outdoor chairs and tents before storing them away.
Wash your clothes immediately after returning home: this will kill any ticks that hitched a ride onto your clothing. Don’t toss it in a pile and wait for later! Keep in mind that they can live on moist clothing simply dropped into a hamper for 2-3 days. Also, leaving them in a hamper puts the next person to touch them at risk. After coming indoors after spending time outside, immediately take off your clothes and throw them in the dryer first. Leave the clothes in the dryer on high heat for 15 minutes to dry out and kill any ticks that hitched a ride. Then, wash your clothes in hot water.
If your clothes require washing first, hot water is always recommended because cold and medium temperature will not eliminate ticks. Then throw them in the dryer as recommended above. This gives you a piece of mind that they’re dead.
Check dogs for ticks: when returning to the house from dog parks, groomers, hunting, kennels, veterinary clinics or other locations frequented by dogs. In addition, performing ticks checks upon returning from any outdoor activity will prevent tick bites and dreaded infestations in your home.
Areas to Check:
- Around the face.
- Base of the tail.
- Along the back.
- Between the toes.
- In and around the ears.
- In and around the eyelids.
- Under the front and hind legs.
Outdoor cats: ticks on cats can carry the same potential problems and disease. Thus, it’s important to check your cat before ticks can become potential problems in your home.
Areas to check:
- Around the head.
- In and around the ears.
- Paws - between the toes.
- Under the collar.
- Under the tail.
- Around the anus.
- Inside the groin and front legs.
- Along the back.
Prevent rodents from entering your home. As stated above, rodents are hosts to different species of disease-transmitting ticks. If a rodent enters your home, it’s almost guaranteed a tick has hitched a ride. Inspect your home and seal cracks and holes outside, including areas where utilities and pipes enter your home, using caulk, steel wool or a combination of both. Store food in airtight containers and dispose of garbage regularly. Keep attics and crawl spaces well-ventilated and dry.
By being aware of how these nasty bloodsuckers can enter your home, you can take preventative measures to protect your sanctuary. Better yet, it significantly reduces the chances of being bitten by a creepy tick right in your own home.
On the other hand, if you suspect ticks are lurking in your home, it’s best to contact an exterminator to identify the species and use the appropriate pesticide to wipe them out. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
How To Protect Yourself And Loved Ones From Ticks Outdoors.
Unfortunately, ticks appreciate the warmer weather as much as we do and pose a serious threat to any outdoor enthusiast. As you already know, the diseases they transmit can wreak havoc on your body. Babesiosis, Lyme Disease, Powassan and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are just a few you should be aware of.
Due to the ever-growing threat of contracting a tick-borne illness, a tick bite can quickly turn a great day into a tragedy. Here are a few measures to prevent tick bites when enjoying the outdoors.
Understand the environment when venturing into tick territory. As stated above, ticks prefer moist and humid environments that tend to be closer to the ground - such as dense leaf litter, tall grassy areas, fallen branches, logs, and tall brush. These environments are excellent areas for ticks to ambush unsuspecting hosts. Remember, the thicker the foliage, the higher the risk of a tick encounter.
Don’t venture off the beaten path. If you are going for a jog, walk or a hike stay in the middle of paths and trails. Avoid the high grass and brush located on the edges of outdoor trails. Sports and athletic fields are safer. However, stay vigilant and make sure you stay out of tall grasses at the edges of fields when possible.
Avoid sitting on the ground or walking through leaf litter. A female tick can lay thousands of eggs in leaf litter which is soft and warm. Although the eggs are harmless, they unfortunately hatch releasing thousands of larvae also known as seed ticks. At this stage, it finds a host, attaches, and sucks blood until it's full. You can potentially become its first host. Oh, it gets worse.
After its meal, it detaches from its host and molts into a nymph. This usually occurs during spring and early summer and pose a serious threat for two reasons: (1) they are the size of a poppy seed and (2) are absolutely capable of transmitting tick-borne diseases. These molted devils have no problem hiding under leaves, hitching an undetected ride and making you their host.
A Word of Caution to Parents:
Ticks are a very scary reason why you should never let your children jump and play in piles of leaves. Larvae and nymphs crawl up from leaf litter. Also, since children frequently lay, roll and play on the ground, they have a higher risk of encountering a tick.
Dress Appropriately. Resist the temptation of wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts. This is a tad more obvious. Long-sleeved shirts and pants provide a barrier between you and ticks. It also protects you from spider bites and mosquitoes that can carry Dengue Fever, Malaria and Zika Virus. Another added benefit is protection against Poison Ivy, Poison Oak and Poison Sumac, which could cause more than just an itchy rash. High Tech quick-drying, abrasion-resistant, nylon-blend garments are almost as cool as shorts and further protect you from the sun.
Wearing a long-sleeved shirt and long pants can definitely be very hot especially during the summer months. It may also be impossible to keep them on children. Unfortunately, wearing them is warranted if there is a threat of a tick-borne disease in your region.
Tuck it in and seal the cracks. Tuck your long pants into your boots or socks for added protection. You can also tape around the area where your socks meet your pants or boots meet your pants. Ok, tucking your long pants into your socks is definitely not fashionable. Whatever your fashion sense, taking some or all of the precautions significantly reduces the odds of an unpleasant tick encounter.
Don’t forget to tuck in your shirt. Although you're sealed tight, keep in mind that ticks are tenacious and capable of finding even the smallest gap in your defense. Always perform a tick check as stated above.
Avoid going barefoot or wearing open-toe sandals / shoes. Exposed feet at ground level is definitely not a good idea. Remember exposed skin rings the dinner bell. A tick can easily crawl on your foot undetected, up your leg and easily latch on to the back of your knee. As stated directly above, you need to tuck it in!
For example, an over the ankle hiking boot is an intelligent choice. It also provides ankle support which prevents sprains; keeps the rocks out, prevents socks from becoming wet, ultimately leading to blisters and protects your feet from other biting insects. Remember, when choosing outdoor footwear, make sure it’s over the ankle.
Wear light-colored clothing. Depending on the species, ticks generally range from grayish white, brown, reddish-brown, yellowish and black. Light- colored clothing makes them easier to spot and remove before they have a chance to sneak away and attach onto your skin. Remember, ticks tend to crawl upward so stop and check your clothing.
Tie long hair back and wear a hat or kerchief / bandanna. There is a common misconception that ticks fall from trees and attach onto hosts. Just relax, ticks are not raining out of trees on us. However, keep in mind that ticks like moist shaded areas such as tree canopies. So if you happen to be laying down under a canopy, keep your noggin covered. Stay vigilant when leaning up against trees. When traveling through high grass or shrubs, your hair can brush up against it and pick up one of these little nasties.
Treat your gear and clothing with the insecticide Permethrin. When traveling through tick country, the CDC recommends to use a product containing at least 0.5% Permethrin. It is used to treat boots, camping gear, clothing, mosquito nets, sleeping bags and tents. Permethrin bonds to the fabric fibers and provides a barrier of protection. It can last for up to 6 weeks (42 days) or 6 washes.
Research conducted by the University of Rhode Island (URI) and CDC shows that clothing treated with Permethrin has strong toxic effects on ticks. It immediately attacks their nervous system causing muscle spasm, paralysis and death. As an added bonus, it also kills other biting pests such as fleas, flies
DID YOU KNOW?
In the 1980's, the U.S. military conducted multiple tests on a synthetic version of the plant-derived pesticide. When it was shown to be effective in preventing the bite of insects and ticks, the military began purchasing uniforms for soldiers that are factory-treated with permethrin.
Permethrin spray is meant only for your outer clothing and gear and not your skin. It is a unique chemical because it does not have to be reapplied frequently. It stays bound to the material of your clothing and gear and only needs to be reapplied every few months. For complete protection, you also need to use an insect repellent for exposed skin.
You also have the option of purchasing clothing treated with Permethrin. This offers built-in protection against ticks, mosquitoes and other insects that can carry dangerous diseases.
Use a tick repellent. Ticks are crafty and have a unique sensory structure on their forelegs called the Haller’s organ. This complex radar detects chemicals, like ammonia, carbon dioxide, lactic acid and pheromones. It can even sense odors, humidity, infrared light and body heat emitted by warm blood-filled creatures a tick wants to feed on. So when ticks wave those creepy little forelegs around, they are aggressively smelling the air seeking out a host.
For example, the Lone Star Tick and American Dog Tick can sense and hone in on a human’s body heat from several meters away. These two species are well-known for transmitting various diseases.
The term “repellent” doesn’t actually reflect how these materials work. They don’t actually repel ticks but instead block the tick’s receptors used to detect a host to feed on. Think of it as a jamming frequency disrupting a tick’s complex radar system. By blocking the Haller’s organ, it stops ticks from sensing your presence.
When it comes to repellents that truly keep ticks away, the CDC recommends these six active ingredients to look for:
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus.
- Para-menthane-diol (PMD).
Make sure the repellent makes it to the EPA approved list with at least 20% of the above-mentioned active ingredients. Repellents with 10% or less will only protect you for a couple of hours.
If you have children, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that repellents used on children should contain no more than 30% DEET. On the other hand if you prefer a more natural repellent, products containing oil or lemon eucalyptus are your best choice. Be sure to follow directions on how to use these products safely.
Before you head outdoors, spray all of your clothing and outer garments. Now that you are aware of Permethrin and repellents, spray it down. Since these bloodsuckers are so tiny, they often crawl up and under your clothing. Spray the surface of your clothing and footwear.
Perform a tick check. Conduct a visual inspection of the outer perimeter of your clothing. Don’t just glance at your clothing. A visual inspection should be performed thoroughly. Look for very small pinpoint-sized nymphs and adult ticks that may have crawled on. You may need someone to meticulously check your back.
Check exposed skin as stated above, and if you are wearing shorts, definitely check behind the knees. The sooner you find and remove them, the greater the chance you will reduce the risk of becoming a blood meal as well as a falling victim to a tick-borne infection.
Remove any ticks. Despite all your efforts, you have just found a tick attached to your skin or a loved one. Panic sets in and the ultimate question is what do you do? Remove as soon as possible after you discover it! Usually, an infected tick must be attached for a day or longer to inject a diseased organism into your body. The sooner you remove it, the less likely you will become infected.
You must remove all of its disgusting mouthparts. The best way is as follows:
- Use blunt curved forceps, tweezers or an appropriate tick removal device. If you must use your fingers, cover them with rubber gloves.
- Place the tips of the tweezers or your fingers or edges of the devices around the ticks mouthparts where they entered the skin. Get as close to the skin as possible.
- Remove the tick slowly with a steady even pressured pull away from the skin. Do not jerk or twist the skin. This may cause mouthparts to break off and remain embedded.
- Exercise significant care not to crush or puncture the body or the tick or get any fluids of the tick on you. These fluids can carry numerous bacteria, viruses and parasites that can spread onto your skin.
- Examine the wounded area to make sure you removed all the mouthparts.
- Place the tick in a sealable container (plastic bag or vial) and seek medical attention. Identification of the species is extremely important to determine the potential tick-borne illness you may be exposed to.
- After you completely remove the tick, disinfect your skin with alcohol or povidone iodine and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water.
Stay Vigilant For Symptoms. For example, Lyme disease is a very serious bacterial infection that can cause permanent damage in bone and the nervous system.
Symptoms to watch for are:
- Neck pain.
- Joint pain.
- Muscle pain.
- Swollen lymph nodes.
- Circular expanding rash with target-like appearance. (Commonly referred to as a bulls eye).
- Sleep issues.
Seek medical attention immediately if you have been bitten by a tick. Please don’t hesitate because complications from tick-borne illnesses can be fatal.
A Final Note.
The best defense against a tick bite is a good offense. Always be aware of them anytime you, your family or pets enjoy the outdoors. Ticks are a part of the environment and although there is no way you can completely eliminate them, you can exercise preventative measures to significantly reduce exposure.
Enjoy the outdoors, but be mindful of them.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to read this article. As always, be well and stay safe.