Don’t Get Tick(ed) Off!

May 11, 2008

Let’s face it, now is the time to be outdoors. Whether you be chasing wild turkey, planting food plots or taking the family on a hunt for the delicious morel mushroom which is just coming into season in many parts of the country you are going to expose yourself to ticks. In fact this time of year I expect to see ticks doing their best to catch a free ride and, worst yet, a free lunch. Ticks, generally, are fairly harmless insects but left unchecked they can introduce some very nasty illnesses…some that can even kill you. As with any potential enemy it is best to learn as much as you can about them and how to combat them. So how do you do that?

First, learn about the two most common types of ticks in the United States. There is dermacentor variabilis known as both the dog or wood tick. Adult specimens are relatively large to other tick species making them easy to spot as they attempt to make their assent to a warm, cozy spot on your person. This species has been known to transmit an illness called Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. In my experience this is the tick you are most likely to run across, particularly in my neck of the woods (Iowa).

More feared than the wood tick is the Deer Tick known to people in white coats as lxodes scapularis. This tick is much smaller than the wood tick which is a problem because it can transmit lyme disease one of the more feared tick-born illnesses and one all who love the outdoors should become familiar with.

Ok, so you know what they are so how can you prevent getting them and what do you do if you find one making home on you, a loved one or friend? First you need to know how these little rascals get on you. They do not jump and can’t fly so the only way you can get them is to come in physical contact with them by either walking through grass and brush or, less likely but possible, have one fall from overhead. That said it is absolutely imperative for anybody enjoying nature to do “tick checks” after each trip afield. Before we get into how to remove a tick, let’s talk about preventing them from setting up shop in the first place. For this Google is your friend as there is no shortage of advice (here, here and here to name a few). Let me sum up a few of the most common recommendations:

  1. When you can wear white or light colored clothing. Ticks are dark and will be a nice contrast to a white shirt allowing you to quickly spot them.
  2. Tuck your pant legs either into your boots or socks and wear long sleeved shirts buttoned up at the wrist. Wearing a hat and optionally a mosquito net will help protected your head.
  3. Use a tick repellent. Many common brands of bug repellents also deter ticks.
  4. Do tick checks often, particularly when you are in areas with heavy tick populations. Each outing should conclude with a full body tick check. Adults should always do this for children and even adults could benefit by having a spouse or significant other provide a second set of eyes.
  5. Prevent bringing ticks into your home. This means checking pets that my have been out with you as well as ensuring the clothes you wore are tick-free. I’ve personally seen ticks show up on one of my daughters who wasn’t even with me on the prior excursion. I’m convinced the tick came in with me on my clothes.

Despite your best efforts if you are an outdoor enthusiast you will undoubtedly run into a situation where a tick will have set-up shop. Now what. One common misconception is that the use of heat or chemicals should used. I personally recall being told to use tweezers and to heat the tips of the tweezers up with a lighter…NO don’t do that. Turns out that using heat, chemicals or even crushing the tick while attached to it’s host could cause it to regurgitate into the skin. Instead simply use common household tweezers or specialized tick tweezers like Tick Twister to remove the tick.

Finally I’m going to leave you with this video which specifically discusses prevention of ticks, symptoms of lyme disease and other useful tips:

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