The mere mention of the word, “ticks” makes me cringe.
In general, I am pretty squeamish. I don’t like spiders or snakes or frogs. (How it is that I married an outdoorsman, no one will ever understand). But my fear of ticks is beginning to far outweigh that of any of the aforementioned species, especially because many ticks carry diseases.
Due to the mild winter we had in Vermont this past season, the projected tick forecast doesn’t look good.
My friends have been finding these evil buggers on their pets since February and my mother-in-law pulled one off following a nature walk just a couple of weeks ago. Now, I’m just waiting to find one on myself or my kids after we play outside. When I do, I know I’m going to panic; it’s just my nature. It is my hope, however, that I can prepare myself enough so I will panic internally and silently, so as not to send my kids into a complete meltdown with me.
After scouring credible internet resources, I have compiled all the information I think any parent needs to know about tick prevention, detection, and removal. I’m sharing these tips with you today in hopes that this information will be just as helpful for you as it is for me.
Before I continue, I should mention that ticks cannot jump, fly, or drop down onto passing animals or people. You must make direct contact with a tick for it to be able to climb on you. This can happen if you’re sitting or lying on the ground or if you brush your arm against plants as you walk by. It doesn’t take much.
According to the CDC, Vermont Department of Health, and New York State Department of Health websites, the following are ways in which you can prevent yourself from coming in contact with and/or getting bit by a tick:
Ticks like to climb tall grass and shrubs (up to 18-24 inches off the ground). They also wander around damp lawns and hang out in gardens, around stone walls and at the edges of wooded areas. Try to avoid sitting on stone walls or the ground in general.
Ticks are also attracted to leaf debris (they tend to lay their eggs there and seek it out during their molting stages). Either avoid it altogether or check yourself multiple times when working with fallen leaves. Better yet, clear all leaf debris out of your yard to reduce your chances of being bit by a tick. (Make sure you check yourself frequently during leaf removal).
If you’re hiking, stay to the middle of well-cleared, frequently traveled trails. Remember that you can pick up a tick unknowingly by brushing up against any kind of vegetation.
If possible, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and shoes that don’t expose any part of your feet. Better yet, wear boots and tuck your pants into them.
If your hair is long, keep it pulled back. This prevents a tick from getting into your scalp easily, and it also allows you to see any ticks that have climbed their way up and are hanging out under your hairline.
Wear light colored clothing. If a tick does manage to find its way on you, you can see it more easily this way and remove it before it gets too far.
Check your clothes and skin frequently, while you’re still outside and when you go inside.
Consider wearing an EPA-registered insect repellent containing at least 20%, but not more than 30% Deet. Spray it on clothes and exposed skin only. (Do not spray it on unexposed skin).
The EPA has a website where you can search for what types of repellent may work for you here.
Permethrin will kill ticks when they come into contact with it and you can spray it on your clothing, but make sure you don’t put it on your skin. Once permethrin is sprayed on your clothing, it should remain on it through multiple washings so you don’t need to reapply it all the time.
If you have been in a place where you are at high risk for picking up a tick, put your clothes in the dryer on high for 10 minutes immediately after you come inside. Even a hot wash won’t kill ticks, but the heat of the dryer will.
Don’t wait to shower, do it so as soon as you can when you come inside.
We live in Vermont. There will always be animals that can carry ticks; birds, rodents, deer, etc. You can reduce the number of deer and small animals visiting your lawn, however. Create physical barriers around your gardens or removing plants that tend to attract tick-carrying animals.
Speaking of animals, if you have pets, consult with your veterinarian regarding tick prevention for your pet. There are collars, sprays, shampoos, and medications that can be used to keep your pet from collecting ticks on their body.
The CDC says that you can resort to having acaricide applied to your lawn. You can do it yourself, or you can have a pest control expert do so. Acaricide application has been proven to significantly reduce the number of ticks in the area in which it is applied.
Checking for Ticks
Here are some sites with images of different types of ticks to help you recognize what one might look like.
As a general rule, ticks like to climb upward until they reach a protected spot. Obviously, check your entire body, but pay specific attention to the nooks and crannies. Use a mirror and pay special attention to looking under armpits, behind ears, in the belly button, on the backs of knees, in hair, between legs, in the groin area, and around the waist.
So what do you do if you find one? There is so much conflicting information about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to removal. I have done some research about what is true and what is a myth.
There’s only one thing you need to remember about removal: THE ONLY SAFE WAY TO REMOVE A TICK AFTER IT HAS ATTACHED ITSELF TO A HUMAN BODY IS BY USING FINE-TIPPED TWEEZERS.
DO NOT try to burn them off with a match, cover them in nail polish, freeze them off, use petroleum jelly to suffocate them, or try to just wash them off with soap. None of these methods have been proven to be effective; they can still allow the release of unwanted germs into their target. Many of these methods aren’t safe anyway.
As for the act of tick removal, you can give it a go, or you can see a medical professional if you have immediate access to one.
Here’s the step-by-step breakdown of what to do if you choose to try it yourself:
- Clean fine-tipped tweezers with rubbing alcohol.
- Grasp onto the tick with the tweezers, as close to its attachment to your/your child’s skin (it’s mouth) as possible.
- Pull straight upward, being careful not to twist the tick. The goal is to try to remove it without the head or mouth parts breaking off. (Breaking the head off will increase the chances of disease or viral transmission). If the tick’s mouth parts don’t come out, try again to remove it with the tweezers. After attempting the second time, if the mouth still doesn’t come out, then just leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- Throw any clothes worn by you or the person the tick was on in the dryer for ten minutes. Then that person should shower.
To dispose of the tick, you can choose to:
- Drown in rubbing alcohol.
- Flush down your toilet.
- Put in a sealed bag or container to bring to a medical professional.
- Wrap tightly in tape.
However, you should never crush a tick between your bare fingers. If you do, it increases the risk of spreading any disease or virus it may be carrying.
As much as I feel like hiding inside all summer and fall, having looked at all these tick pictures and having read all this information, I obviously won’t. I’ll try to instill healthy prevention habits on the beautiful spring and summer days to come and enlist the help of my kids in this effort as well. I hope I never have to use any of this information but, now that I have all this knowledge, I do feel a bit more confident about what to do if I find a tick on myself or on one of my children.
For more information on ticks, check out the following links:
New York State Dept. of Health: https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/2825/
United States Environmental Protection Agency: https://www.epa.gov/insect-repellents/find-insect-repellent-right-you