The arrival of warm temperatures already here in the northeast is a welcome event to many, including ticks. Don’t let fear hamper your outdoor excursions however. Just go outside prepared to prevent a tick encounter, and aware of what to do if you and a tick should meet.
Ticks are not insects. They are arachnids, along with spider and scorpions. They are dormant during the winter and become active and start looking for their first blood meal when the temperatures rise significantly above freezing. This spring’s premature temperature increase has stimulated early activity.
The black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis), is the transmitter of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi. Mouse tick may be a better name, as the white-footed mouse, and a few other small rodents, are the reservoir for the bacterium. A tick becomes infected after feeding on a mouse harboring the spirochete bacterium. A tick is infected with the bacterium usually during its larval stage or nymphal stage.
White-tailed deer are not transmitters of the disease, but are the preferred host of the adult female black-legged tick. Tick populations mirror deer populations – more deer; more ticks.
Ticks are transmitters of several other diseases. Check out the Center for Disease Control to paint the happy picture for you. Here I want to concentrate on prevention.
Here’s what to do to avoid tick bites:
*Wear insect repellent. DEET is the ingredient to look for. It can treat skin and clothing. Pay particular attention to legs and socks. Be aware that it may not prevent a tick from walking over treated areas to find an untreated area of the body.
*Treat clothing with Permethrin. It is an insecticide, not a repellent, and is very effective in protection from both ticks and mosquitoes. It is for your clothing, not skin.
*Stay in the middle of trails. Don’t bushwhack or brush up against overhanging branches. A stick used to shake branches ahead of you might help. It can shake off ticks waiting to drop.
*Tuck your pants into your socks. This will prevent ticks from getting under your clothes. You may not be a fashion-ista, but you could wear fun socks and make a statement.
*Light colored clothing helps you spot ticks easily. A hat is a good idea too.
*After your hike, do a tick check. If you feel a little tickle, check it out. This is how I find ticks on me, but you may not necessarily feel them. Have a buddy check places you cannot see. Pay particular attention to…
joints: behind the knee, crook of the elbow, in the armpit
where clothing constricts: waistband, collar, etc.
hidden spots – hairline, behind ears, bellybutton
Here’s how to remove a tick that has attached:
*Have a fine-tipped tweezers on hand for proper removal of an imbedded tick. Hair-plucking tweezers are not narrow enough for the job.
*Grasp the tick’s embedded head end, as close to the skin as you can. Be sure not to grasp the body, which will cause the tick to regurgitate some unsavory fluid – and perhaps bacteria – back into you.
*Pull straight out without twisting or jerking. You want to get the whole tick, mouthparts and all.
You can also make your yard a veritable tick-free zone. Establish a boundary between the play area and tick-zone with a 2 foot mulch or stone boundary. Also, keep your yard free of brush piles or places where mice might like to live and keep deer from visiting by not providing food sources. Visit here for more specific ideas on tick-proofing your yard.
Just get into a different routine before going outside on your hike and don’t let these little buggers spoil your fun. There are too many flowers to see and too many birds to hear this spring.
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