Q. Our family went for a hike in a wooded area recently. When we came back to the house, we found several ticks on our dog and the kids. Are ticks bad this year?
A. We have received many reports and samples from citizens regarding ticks this spring. It certainly appears that this will be a bad Year of the Tick.
Several species of ticks are found in our area. The most frequently encountered outdoor species is the American dog tick. Lone star ticks and deer ticks can also be found occasionally
Ticks don’t travel far on their own – most just hang out on tall vegetation and wait for a host to travel by. When we brush against taller vegetation, the tick can quickly move and attach itself to us or pets. Minimizing your exposure to tick bites is important because some ticks can carry the disease-causing agents for Lyme disease (deer ticks) and Rocky Mountain spotted fever (dog tick).
To reduce your chance of tick exposure, wear light-colored clothing in wooded areas or places that ticks are known to infest. Ticks are easier to see against light colors, making them easy to remove before they attach.
Tuck pant legs into socks, boots or shoes to prevent ticks from crawling up under clothing. Apply an insect repellent to boot or shoe tops, around the waist and on exposed skin. Most insect repellents that are used against mosquitoes usually work well against ticks.
Examine yourself carefully for ticks after leaving the woods or tick-infested area. Check especially the hair, shoulders, armpits, waist and inner thighs. Ticks normally must attach for several hours before the disease agent is passed from tick to man. Therefore, if ticks are removed promptly, the chances of getting Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever are greatly reduced.
Attached ticks should be carefully removed using a pair of fine tweezers. Firmly grasp the tick at the point closest to where it has attached and pull with a slow steady motion. You should feel a pop as the tick’s mouthparts are pulled free. Disinfect the bite with alcohol or iodine.
Avoid removing the ticks with bare fingers, because there is a risk of introducing the disease agent via infected tick tissues through cuts or abrasions of the skin. Consult a physician immediately if a rash or flu-like symptoms develop.
Check your pets, especially dogs, for ticks as often as possible. Remove ticks from pets in the same way you would remove them from yourself.
If ticks become a problem in your backyard, make sure to keep overgrown and heavy vegetation cleared and cut. Apply insecticidal soap or insecticides containing permethrin or pyrethrum to turf and under shrubbery and trees, and along edges of wooded areas.
More information about ticks can be found online at http://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publications/E-71.pdf and http://entomology.cornell.edu/extension/medent/tickbiofs.cfm.