Summer is officially here; and so are the ticks. From mid-May to mid-July, ticks are at their peak and, for a multitude of reasons, it pays to be aware.
Formerly considered a simple nuisance, ticks are now known to carry germs that can cause at least 15 different human diseases, including Lyme’s and Powassan, with some diseases being transmitted from tick to host (the host being you, me and any other animal) in a matter of minutes. With facts like these, it is tempting to avoid the outdoors altogether. But what fun would that be? Summer on the beautiful North Shore is meant for delightful days spent in nature. Nature can’t be enjoyed from the couch.
First, it needs to be mentioned that not all ticks carry disease and that not all animals bit by a tick will get a disease. That said, a brief overview of ticks and how they operate is warranted. Drawn to grassy, brushy or wooded areas, ticks spend their days waiting for a host to pass by. Because they cannot jump or fly, they perch themselves in a position called questing, with back legs attached to the grass blade or leaf they are sitting on and their front legs reaching forward toward an impending host. When the host passes, they quickly climb aboard. Some will attach almost immediately, while others will crawl around in search of an area where the skin is thin, such as the ear. Once attached, they slowly feed on the blood of the host until they drop off and prepare for the next stage of their life.
After that last paragraph, the couch is starting to look pretty nice, right? Fortunately, there are ways to decrease your chance of attracting ticks and, if all else fails, of removing them quickly. Because ticks like grassy, wooded areas, keep your property mowed and walk in the center of hiking trails when in the woods. Wearing long-sleeve shirts and tucking pants into socks creates a barrier against ticks, while light-colored clothing makes it easier to spot ticks that have attached to the clothing. Repellents can be used (make sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines) and there are even some pre-treated clothing items on the market.
Every evening, do a “tick check,” paying close attention to hidden areas such as the groin, arm pits, backs of knees, ears and hairline. When you shower, use a washcloth to dislodge any ticks that haven’t embedded. When doing laundry, use a dryer on high heat to dry clothing.
If you do find an embedded tick, stick with the basics for removal and forget all the fancy methods. Simply grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible (use tweezers if you have them) and pull with a steady, even pressure. Wash the area thoroughly with alcohol and then with soap and water. If, in the next weeks, you develop a rash, fever or achiness, make an appointment with your doctor.
Don’t let ticks be the only ones out enjoying the beautiful weather. With a few precautions and some common sense, you can reclaim the joy of summer in the great outdoors.
More information can be found at: cdc.gov/ticks.
By Amy Schmidt