Learn about Ticks, Vectors of Lyme Disease and Tick Treatment
Like mosquitoes, ticks are vectors (transmitters of disease). They can transmit dangerous bacteria, rickettsiae, protozoa, and viruses to humans and other animals. Though extremely serious, mosquito-borne disease affects only a few thousand individuals in the U.S. each year, while tick-borne disease afflicts tens of thousands.
Ticks are extremely dangerous and should never come into contact with human skin
Ticks thrive in damp, moist wooded areas and grassy fields
Unlike mosquitoes, these arachnids do not quickly grab a blood meal and go on their way. Ticks have beak-like projections that they plunge into the skin of their host. Depending on its type, a tick may feed on the host’s blood for hours, days or even weeks. A hard tick might ingest 600 times its body weight in blood.
While ticks transmit several diseases, the most prevalent is Lyme disease. Through early tick treatment, Lyme disease can often be subdued; otherwise it can become a chronic, debilitating affliction.
Quick Facts about Ticks
- Although commonly referred to as insects, they are technically arachnids.
- They are classified as parasites since they all feed on the blood of host mammals.
- Their species number in the hundreds, but only a handful typically transmits disease to humans.
- The ticks of greatest concern in the U.S. are the blacklegged tick (also known as the deer tick in the eastern U.S.), the Lone Star tick, and the dog tick.
- They do not jump or fly. Typically, they transfer to hosts by waiting on tall grass and crawling aboard when a mammal happens by.
- They can be active when the ground temperature is above 45°F.
- Ticks that endanger humans also choose deer hosts and are usually prevalent wherever deer are found
- Tick bites often go undetected because they do not hurt or itch.
- They can enter your home and live there for extended periods.
- There are two families: hard ticks (Ixodidae) and soft ticks (Argasidae).
- Hard ticks have three distinct life stages: larva, nymph and adult.
- Soft ticks may go through a number of nymph stages before reaching adult status.
- Tick larvae are not believed to carry pathogens. The pathogens are received from the host when the larvae take their first blood meal. They will not feed again until nymph stage.
- The nymph stage is believed to be most responsible for infecting humans as nymphs are small and can more easily go undetected on the skin.
A "bullet" style skin rash is just one sign of inflammation from a dangerous tick bite
Diseases Transmitted by Ticks
- Anaplasmosis (annually strikes about 600 Americans)
- Babesiosis (mainly in the Northeast and upper Midwestern U.S.)
- Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (not present in the U.S.)
- Ehrlichiosis (incidence has been rising steadily with almost 600 U.S. cases in 2005)
- Lyme disease (tens of thousands of cases across the U.S.)
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever (250-1200 cases annually across the U.S.)
- Southern tick-associated rash illness (transmitted by Lone Star ticks in the southeastern U.S.)
- Tick-borne relapsing fever (usually linked to stays at rustic cabins in the mountains of the Western U.S.)
- Tularemia (annually afflicts around 200 Americans)
- Colorado tick fever (Western U.S. at elevations above 5,000 ft.)
- Powassan encephalitis (Northeastern U.S.; rare)
Protecting your family from tick-borne disease.
Avoid tall grass areas to help avoid tick infestation
While the majority of tick-borne diseases can be treated effectively when caught early, they can be difficult to diagnose. There are many heart-breaking stories of individuals who did not survive or were left permanently disabled by a tick-borne illness and did not receive early tick treatment.
Reducing your tick exposure through landscaping.
Ticks thrive in moist, shady areas and tend to die in sunny, dry areas. You can manage your exposure to them by removing tick habitat or separating it from your outdoor living areas with gravel or wood-chip borders that act as barriers.
Remove leaf litter and brush from around your home and lawn edges. Mow tall grasses. Install wide swaths of wood chips or gravel between your lawn and any wooded areas. Keep your lawn mowed and the ground beneath bird feeders clean. Don’t position playground equipment, decks and patios near treed areas. Landscape with plants and shrubs that are not attractive to deer and/or install physical barriers to keep deer out of your yard.
Seek professional tick control.
Pets can unknowingly carry ticks into your home
Professional outdoor pest control experts such as Mosquito Squad can implement a multi-pronged tick-control plan. A barrier spray or automatic misting system can take down adult ticks on contact. Strategically placed tubes prompt field mice to incorporate tick-killing material in their bedding, effectively eliminating hundreds of nymphs in each mouse nest.
Treat family pets.
Family pets can suffer from tick-borne disease and also carry infected ticks into your home. Talk to your veterinarian about using tick collars and sprays. As with all pest control products, be sure to follow directions carefully. (Some dog tick products are toxic to cats.)
Dress appropriately outdoors.
If you must go into tick habitat, protect yourself by wearing long-sleeved, long-legged, light-colored clothing. Tuck pant legs into socks to refuse ticks an entry point. Spray clothing and any exposed skin with a product containing 20% DEET. (Follow package instructions). Clothing and other gear, but not skin, can be treated with permethrin which will kill them on contact and should last through several washings. Whenever possible, walk in the center of trails so you don’t brush against tall grass or other vegetation.
Check your body for ticks after being outdoors.
Check yourself and your children carefully for ticks after you’ve been outdoors. (Ticks on clothing will be easier to spot if you are wearing light colors.) Clothing that may contain ticks can be put in a dryer set on "high," which should kill the ticks.
When checking for ticks, pay special attention to feet, ankles, underarms; in and around the ears; inside the belly button; behind the knees; in and around the hair; between the legs; and around the waist. Remember, immature ticks can look like a tiny dot. Adults are easier to spot. Both are capable of transmitting disease.
To remove a tick from your skin, firmly grasp it with tweezers as close to the skin surface as possible, and pull it away from your skin in a steady motion
Remove ticks promptly.
If you do find ticks, remove them promptly. Since it can take up to 36 hours for some pathogens in a tick to transfer, early tick removal may allow you to remain disease-free.
To remove the tick, firmly grasp it with tweezers as close to your skin as possible. Pull it away from your skin in a steady motion. Avoid crushing the tick. (If you do crush it, wash your skin with soap and warm water or alcohol.) Even if the tick is not crushed, wash the affected area with soap and warm water. Dispose of the tick in the trash. (Do not allow children to play with the tick as the pathogen in a dead tick may be transferred.)
Never attempt to remove the tick with petroleum jelly, nail polish remover, a hot match or other products.
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