Spring is well on its way here in Massachusetts! After a long winter, there’s nothing better than heading outside to take that first warm floral breath. And as we replace our snow boots with hiking boots, and mittens with gardening gloves, dust off the pool equipment and pull the bikes out of the basement, it’s important to remember, we have some bitey little friends waiting in the grass enjoying the sun too. TICKS!!! So as you ready yourself for sunnier days, let us also protect ourselves and loved ones from these tiny vectors of illness.
It’s actually a misconception that tick bites occur only in the warmer months. While some ticks are dormant there are certain disease carrying species that remain active all year. We call early spring through August “tick season” because firstly, numbers are up and secondly, early spring is also when we’re spending more time doing outdoor activities, such as hiking and gardening. We should always be wary of ticks especially those of us with furry friends and when spending time in the woods or brush.
Ticks carry many diseases both viral and bacterial. The most well known infection a tick can bring is Lyme but they also carry Tularemia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis and more, all of which carry a slew of uncomfortable symptoms that require treatment. So let’s review some of the basics and the best ways to protect ourselves and loved ones.
Where are ticks found?
Generally found near the ground in wooded areas, they climb tall grass and wait for a potential host to find a site for attachment. They can’t fly or jump. Dogs and other furry pals are particularly susceptible to hosting ticks, hiding in long fur. So, to protect your animals and yourself (when they inevitably bring them in) make sure to talk with your vet about appropriate tick treatment.
What do they look like?
As there are 850 known species of tick in the world (90 in the US), appearance may vary between species but all have defining characteristics. They are classified as arachnids, as such they have 8 legs in four pairs that connect to the cephalothorax (fused head and thorax). Most ticks are about the size of a sesame seed and when well fed can swell to the size of a raisin. Unfed, they look teardrop shaped. Again, they do not fly so you won’t see any wings. Ticks can be grayish-white, brown, black, reddish-brown or yellowish in color. Ticks are capable of biting at all three of their active life stages: larval, nymph and adult.
Here are some suggestions to help protect yourslef
Before You Go Outdoors
- Know where to expect ticks. Ticks live in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas, or even on animals. Spending time outside walking your dog, camping, gardening, or hunting could bring you in close contact with ticks. Many people get ticks in their own yard or neighborhood.
- Treat clothing and gear
- Use EPA registered insect repellents
- Avoid Contact with Ticks
- Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
- Walk in the center of trails.
After You Come Indoors
Check your clothing for ticks. Ticks may be carried into the house on clothing. Any ticks that are found should be removed. Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed. If the clothes require washing first, hot water is recommended. Cold and medium temperature water will not kill ticks.
Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and daypacks.
Shower soon after being outdoors. Showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease and may be effective in reducing the risk of other tick borne diseases. Showering may help wash off unattached ticks and it is a good opportunity to do a tick check.
Check your body for ticks after being outdoors. Conduct a full body check upon return from potentially tick-infested areas, including your own backyard. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Check these parts of your body and your child’s body for ticks:
- Under the arms
- In and around the ears
- Inside belly button
- Back of the knees
- In and around the hair
- Between the legs
- Around the waist
If you get bit by a tick
- Using fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as you can.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick.
- After removing the tick, clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
- Dispose of the tick by flushing it down the toilet. If you would like to bring the tick to your healthcare provider for identification, put it in rubbing alcohol or place it in a sealed bag/container.
If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor:
- Tell the doctor about your recent tick bite,
- When the bite occurred, and
- Where you most likely acquired the tick.
Avoid folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick intact, and as quickly as possible–not waiting for it to detach.
If you do find a tick attached, and feel you are at risk for contracting illness, speak with your doctor. You can also search for local labs that will test the tick if you desire.