It is mid-April and ticks are already everywhere. We keep hearing reports of ticks being found on dogs, children, sports enthusiasts, and nature lovers. While it is true that there are more ticks this year due to the mild winter; the ticks from last year never fully died off which makes the population larger this year.
That said, though, they are no more dangerous than they were last year and the methods you used before to prevent ticks and remove them when found are still the same.
First, let me address the dangers of a tick bite.
According to the United States Department of Health Services, ticks are the leading carrier of diseases transmitted to humans in the United States. It isn’t the bite itself that transmits disease, but rather the toxins in the saliva which are excreted. Diseases that can be transmitted include Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted as well as many others, but is usually transmitted to the host at the end of a meal when the tick belly is full.
The Centers for Disease Control state that a tick bite could result in any of the following:
- flu-like symptoms,
- pain and swelling in joints,
- shortness of breath, and
Second, you can do more to prevent tick bites than prevent disease once you have been bitten by a tick. Make sure that all animals in your home are treated regularly with a pet safe insect repellant. Pets can bring ticks into your home, your bed, and you children’s rooms, so this is your first line of defense.
When you are outside, use an insect repellant. Products with 20% DEET or higher on skin and clothing have been proven most effective. Those who don’t want to use a DEET product have found products such as Skin-So-Soft by Avon to be very effective (the effectiveness of this product has not been tested by Inman-Murphy Pest Control).
Think light colors when dressing for outdoor play or sports. Ticks easily make their way to a good feeding location on black or dark clothes because they can’t be seen. Additionally, wearing long pants with socks and a hat help to limit feeding locations for ticks.
After you have been in a wooded location, be sure to do a tick check. First throw your clothes in the dryer on high heat (heat not hot water will kill any ticks attached to your clothes). Then, search everything: in your hair (for men that includes legs), your belly button, under your arms, behind the knees, and any other hairy or dark place that tick might be able to hide.
Last, let’s talk about what to do if you find a tick.
Should you strike a match and hold it to its bottom?
What about slathering it in nail polish?
The goal in tick removal is to limit the amount of toxins transferred to the host, and both heat and nail polish will cause the tick to spit more toxins into the host raising the risk of disease transmittal. Instead of running for the lighter or nail polish, keep a pair of small tweezers in your bathroom, kitchen, laundry room, or wherever you will be doing your tick check.
- Use a small pair of curved forceps or tweezers. Wear some sort of hand protection such as gloves so you don’t spread pathogens from the tick to your hands.
- Using the tweezers, carefully flip the tick over onto its back. Grasp the tick firmly with the tweezers as close to the skin as possible. Apply gentle pulling until the tick comes free. Twisting or turning the tick does not make removal easier because the mouthparts are barbed; in fact, such actions may break off the head and mouthparts, thereby increasing the chances for infection. The illustration below from the U.S. CDC (Figure 4) shows the proper technique for removal of a tick.
- Once removed, don’t crush the tick because you may transmit disease. Rinse it down a sink or flush it down a toilet. Consider keeping it in a tightly closed jar or taped to a piece of paper. Show the tick to the doctor if you become ill from the tick bite.
- The area of the bite should leave a small crater or indentation where the head and mouthparts were embedded. If portions of the head or mouthparts remain, they should be removed by a doctor.
- Thoroughly cleanse the bite area with soap and water or a mild disinfectant. Observe the area for several days for development of a reaction to the bite, such as a rash or signs of infection. Apply first-aid antibiotic cream to the area. Application of an antibiotic to the area may help prevent a local infection but usually does not affect the chance of developing diseases transmitted by the tick.
- Remember to wash hands thoroughly after handling any tick or instruments that touched a tick. Clean and disinfect any instruments that were used.
Seek medical treatment if you have a strong reaction or part the tick head remains embedded in the skin.
Being prepared is the key to tick prevention and treatment, and with a little forethought, you don’t have to get ticked by ticks.