Tips on how to keep ticks away, what diseases they transmit, and how to protect your home.
There are three species of ticks that should be watched out for: blacklegged (deer) ticks, Lone Star ticks, and American dog ticks. The Suffolk County Department of Health Services is warning residents, especially in tick-prone regions, to watch out and how to address the growing tick population.
Ticks are found in low-brush areas, vary in size and do transmit disease. Most of the diseases transmitted are bacterial in nature, can be treated with antibiotics, and have flu-like symptoms. Ticks require a “blood meal” three times within their two-year life cycle. They will attach to the skin and feed for two to seven days, depending on their life stage. The tick must be on the body for at least 36 hours to transmit disease, according to studies. Officials said this means that prevention methods and prompt removal are the most effective defenses.
There is really only one way to safely and effectively remove a tick that has attached to the skin: tweezers. Ticks do not bury under the skin or dig under the skin. Their mouth penetrates the skin to suck blood, similar to mosquitos. If there is one on your skin, take the tweezers and pinch where the mouth enters the skin, pulling straight out. Do not twist or squeeze, and be patient. Any other rumored methods of tick removal (petroleum jelly, lit matches, oils, etc.) are not recommended. After removal, disinfect the bite area and wash your hands, and monitor the bite for early symptoms of disease. After disinfecting the bite area, leave it alone. Place a bandage on and watch for symptoms, as additional aggravation could cause other bacterial diseases.
Repellents are one of the most common ways to prevent ticks from reaching the skin. Products with DEET may be applied to the skin and clothes, but wash off. Lower concentrations of DEET are recommended, especially for children. Permethrin is another popular chemical that can only be used on clothing.
For other preventative measures, the department recommends wearing light-colored clothing, long pants and sleeves, tucking pants into socks and shirts into pants. Walk in the center of any premade trails to avoid tick-prone areas. Perform frequent clothing and skin checks and when you get home, throw any used clothing into the dryer on a high temperature for at least 10 minutes to kill any ticks. Ticks will survive the wash, even with soap, hot water and bleach, but will not survive the high heat of a dryer. Always check children and pets for ticks before entering the house.
On your property it is recommended, if you decide to use a tick spray, to place it around the edges of the property where there is brush or a connection to woodland. Ticks gather around host animals and plants, and are likely to gather in that area of the yard. If you can create a drier climate in your yard, that is also helpful, as ticks are not attracted to dry weather. Other helpful changes are to get rid of any rodent hideouts like rock piles and old firewood, as they can also be hosts for ticks, and to create “dry zones” using gravel or wood chips around the edge of the property. “Natural” products are effective to a point, according to the department, but have not been shown to be more effective at controlling ticks. Field studies show only a 40 percent control for non-adults and low-20 percent for adult ticks. They are also not necessarily safer for the environment around the ticks.
Diseases caused by ticks
Lyme Disease: Flu-like symptoms and a red circular rash at the bite area within a month.
Anaplasmosis: Flu-like symptoms within one to three weeks, more severe as symptoms could occasionally be life-threatening.
Babesiosis: Symptoms of anemia, fever and fatigue appear within a week to two months. Rare but sometimes deadly.
Lone Star Ticks
Ehrlichiosis: similar to anaplasmosis.
Tularemia: Skin ulcer at the site of the bite and swollen lymph nodes within two weeks.
Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness (STARI): similar to Lyme disease with flu-like symptoms, but not serious or potentially fatal.
American Dog Ticks
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: Sudden onset of fever for two to three weeks, headache, muscle pain, fatigue, rash that begins in the arms or hands and spreads to the rest of the body, which appear within two weeks of a bite.
Misconceptions about ticks
Wrong: Ticks are only around in the summer.
Right: Ticks are active all year when the temperature is above 40 degrees.
Wrong: The size of a tick determines its type.
Right: Ticks are dangerous at all stages of life, and can often vary in size.
Wrong: Matches, oils and petroleum jelly can remove ticks.
Right: Tweezers or certified tick removal kits are the only real way to remove a tick safely.
Wrong: Ticks are all over — in trees, on tall plants, and can jump and fly.
Right: Ticks only crawl close to the ground on leaves, brush and tall grass. If they reach your upper body, it’s likely that they crawled there.
Suffolk County: suffolkcountyny.gov/departments/healthservices/publichealth
New York State: health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/lyme
Center for Disease Control: cdc.gov/niosh/topics/tick-borne