Talking About Ticks
Thursday, June 22, 2017
Outdoor living season is here and we are all outside more on a regular basis. However, just as we are more active in the summer, so are little critters such as ticks. Ticks are particularly problematic as they are very small, hitch rides easily, and spread disease such as Lyme disease. The number of Lyme disease cases in the U.S. has tripled since the 1990s and the number of counties in the Northeast and Upper Midwest considered high-risk for Lyme has increased by more than 300 percent, reports Rebecca Eisen, Ph.D. a research biologist at the CDC. The NY counties at highest risk for Lyme disease are generally downstate but the incident rate in upstate NY counties is increasing. According to the CDC, people get more tick bites and tickborne diseases from May to July than any other time of year. It is, therefore, important to take steps to protect yourself and loved ones (including pets) during this season as well as the warm months until snow flies.
Ticks are tiny 8-legged creatures that can be very hard to see. Deer ticks, which carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, are especially small. The young nymphs are only the size of a poppy seed and the adult ticks are about the size of a sesame seed.
Whether you work outdoors, enjoy your yard, hike in the woods, camp, or hunt, it is important to protect yourself from getting a tick bite. The CDC and NIH make the following recommendations: landscaping ideas to help reduce tick populations:
- Remove leaf litter.
- Clear tall grasses and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns.
- Place a 3-ft wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to restrict tick migration into recreational areas.
- Mow the lawn frequently.
- Stack wood neatly and in a dry area (discourages rodents).
- Keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees.
- Discourage unwelcome animals (such as deer, raccoons, and stray dogs) from entering your yard by constructing fences.
- Remove old furniture, mattresses, or trash from the yard that may give ticks a place to hide.
If you find a tick attached to your skin, do not panic. Remove ticks easily with the following technique:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouthparts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
- Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers. It is a good idea to keep the tick in a dry jar or sealed plastic bag and save it in the freezer for testing in case you develop symptoms of infection. Avoid folklore remedies such as "painting" the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible – not waiting for it to detach.
- Then monitor yourself or others for symptoms of infection for 30 days after the removal of the tick. Symptoms of infection are general flu-like symptoms, headache, fever, and in the case of Lyme disease, may include a rash that is at least 2 inches in diameter and expands over time.
Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health in Dansville. If you have article suggestions or questions, contact Lorraine at firstname.lastname@example.org or 585-335-4327.