We know the feeling: The days are warmer, the sun is shining, and the outdoors beckon. But as springtime arrives, something else is on the move – ticks, looking for hosts and eager to feed. Whether you’re a homeowner spending time in the backyard or a pleasure-seeker hitting the trails, a basic knowledge of ticks will help you manage your risk exposure and avoid the dangers associated with ticks, primarily disease-causing bacteria.
Ticks Transmit Diseases
It’s an ugly fact: Ticks eat our blood. Adults, children, and pets are susceptible to tick bites.
Some ticks feed on several hosts during their life cycle. That’s how tick disease transmission happens. Ticks pick up disease-causing pathogens from one host and pass the pathogens along when they hop over to a new host. It’s more of a crawl, actually, as ticks don’t jump or fly. Regardless, a bite from a black-legged tick, for example, can transmit over five diseases, with Lyme being one of the most common.
Depending on where you live in the U.S., you face a risk of different tick-borne diseases. (You can find out which diseases are local to you from your Department of Health or the CDC). While cases of tick-borne diseases are reported in large numbers in most regions of the U.S., the majority are reported in the Northeast, Midwest, and South. Early predictions indicate that tick-borne diseases will be more prevalent this year, especially for pets.
An Increasingly Common Illness
The most well-known tick-related illness is also one of the most hazardous. Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the U.S., and it’s transmitted by the bite of an infected tick.
Symptoms include fatigue, fever, body aches, and, in most cases, a circular rash that expands in the days after the bite. Fortunately, most cases of Lyme can be treated successfully if they’re identified and dealt with right away. But if Lyme isn’t caught, symptoms can become more serious with time. This includes severe pain and stiffness, facial palsy, inflammation of the brain and spine, and even heart palpitations.
Research indicates that the bite of a certain tick, the Lone Star Tick, which has a white dot on its back, can be associated with allergies to red meat. What happens is that during the bite, the tick transmits a sugar molecule called alpha-gal into the person’s body. In some cases, this triggers an immune system reaction that produces mild to severe reactions to certain mammal products such as beef, pork, or lamb.
If you’re bitten by a tick, don’t panic. Not all ticks carry disease-causing pathogens or trigger allergic reactions. Nonetheless, monitor yourself for the basic symptoms such as fever, chills, fatigue, muscle pains, and rash. If you develop these symptoms a few weeks after your tick bite, see your health care provider.
What You Can Do to Avoid Ticks
Ticks live in the woods and in grassy, brushy areas. The good news is that with some simple protective steps, you can still do what you love outdoors, whether it’s camping, walking your dog in the woods, or hanging out in your backyard.
Know When the Risk Is High – Find out what types of ticks are most common in your region. From there you can find out exactly when the odds of a bite are highest. Check out the CDC’s maps of where ticks live.
Protect Yourself, and Your Children and Pets – There are many ways to protect your kids and pets:
- Pest repellants such as permethrin sprays will bond to clothing and repel ticks for several weeks or washings. Shoppers should read and follow label instructions carefully and, of course, be mindful of the health risks of insect repellant, especially if you’re pregnant or have young children.
- Shower after you come inside, even from your own backyard.
- Check your body for ticks, especially in these areas: behind the knees, in and around hair, along the waist, between the legs, under the arms, around the ears, and in the belly button.
- Check your clothes and supplies; ticks can travel home with you on your things. Washing clothes on a hot cycle or drying them for 10 minutes on high heat will kill any eight-legged stowaways.
Protect Your Home
Ticks love their hiding places. Simple yard maintenance can clear your space of the spots where ticks linger.
- Leaf litter, tall grasses, and any old furniture or garbage, for instance, can become gathering places. Clear them away.
- Mow your lawn often.
- Is your yard near a wooded area? Separate it with a barrier of wood chips or gravel, ideally up to 3 feet wide. This step will prevent ticks from moving into your space.
- Likewise, make sure playground equipment or decks are placed in a location that’s adequately clear of trees and in full sunlight.
- Last but not least, consider Mosquito Shield’s tick control service. Mosquito Shield will apply an effective barrier treatment to your common-use areas and the areas where ticks may gather, eliminating them before they can reach you. Take back your yard and prevent future infestation, so you can enjoy everything you love about being outdoors with true peace of mind.