Katie is on vacation until late July. We’ll have a series of guest contributors filling in, and next up is entomologist NJ Renie. Today he’s here to talk about ticks.
We live in a world chock-full of information about potential health risks. With all the noise it can be difficult, if not maddening, to determine which risks are serious and what, if anything, we can do them.
Booming wildlife populations, coupled with our increasing encroachment into wild areas, have led to an increased risk of tick borne diseases, including Lyme disease. The health risks are serious enough to draw considerable attention, but what it is less known is the secret to beating ticks: don’t get bit. Easier said than done, but the fewer chances you give ticks, the better your chances of staying healthy.
Whether you are enjoying the outdoors or working in it, it is important to limit your exposure to ticks as a fundamental part of your summer routine. Here’s how:
Keep your distance:
Ticks do not jump, hop, fly, or base jump off of tree branches. In fact, they lack the range of motion to achieve anything more than a crawl, but what they lack in spryness, they more than make up for in patience. A tick will shimmy up to the tip of tall grasses and low shrubs and wait, claws out, for an unsuspecting animal to pass within reach.
Woodland trails, with their steady supply of passing food and protection from intense sun and wind, are the ideal habitat for hungry ticks. When on a hike, bike, or hunt try to remain in the center of the trail in order to minimize your exposure. Also, try to avoid early morning and late evening, as they are a tick’s most active feeding times.
Photo by Jan Anders
Be a tough mark:
After attaching itself to your pants, socks, etc., a tick will look for a sheltered place in which to feed. Ideal locations include the hair, cuffs and collars, in and around the ears, and in the bellybutton. To make their search for safety tougher, wear closed toed shoes, long sleeves and pants, and a hat. Tucking in your shirt as well as tucking your pants into your socks (wear a very tight knit) will make it much more difficult for ticks to set up shop.
When you stop to rest, be sure to check for ticks. Ticks are dark in color, so light colored clothing will make them more readily visible. If a tick is found, do not squash it or touch it, as it may contain contaminated blood or harmful pathogens.
Wash that bug right out of your hair:
A quick shower will help to flush out any disengaged ticks. Immediately washing your clothing will dislodge most ticks, while the heat of a dryer will be sure to kill any that survive the wash.
Pull in the welcome mat:
Photo by Sami Sieranoja
Make your yard an unfriendly place for ticks. Regularly mow grassy areas and clear away brush. Deer, mice, birds, and other wildlife, as well as livestock and outdoor pets, are all common hosts of ticks.
While a fear of ticks is no reason to send Rover away for good, please be aware that the presence of additional food sources will always result in a greater number of ticks, thus requiring more vigilance on your part. A couple of Guinea fowl in the barnyard is a traditional fix for reducing tick populations.
Think of the kitties:
If you do have outdoor pets it is important to check them daily for ticks. Besides the risks to their health, a tick may decide to move from a pet to you.
Photo by Alan Turkus
It takes a steady hand:
A feeding tick will insert a barbed feeding tube into the skin. If you find a tick feeding, remove it by grasping this feeding tube as close to the skin as possible and pulling straight out in one slow, deliberate motion. Twisting or jerking could lead to breakage and infection.
Do not ever grasp, squeeze, burn, paint, grease, or damage the body of a tick. These actions may lead to an outflow of pathogens from the tick into the host. Once the tick has been removed, remember to dispose of it properly and do not forget to sterilize those tweezers.
These tips and precautions will limit your exposure to ticks and significantly decrease the likelihood of contracting a tick borne disease. The risks are real and very serious, but limiting your exposure is a common sense first step in protecting you and your family’s health.
If you have anything to add, please share!