- Ticks are classified into two types: hard ticks (Ixodidae) and soft ticks (Argasidae) and they are technically arachnids, not insects.Classified as parasites, ticks feed on the blood of host mammals.
- Tick bites do not hurt or itch and so are usually undetected.
- Ticks may feed on the host’s blood for hours, days, or even weeks.
- A tick can ingest 600 times its body weight in blood.
- The three life stages of the hard tick are: larva, nymph and adult.
- Ticks thrive in grassy fields, woodpiles, and moist wooded areas, however, they can still enter and live inside your home.
- Out of hundreds of tick species, only a handful typically transmit disease to humans.
- The ticks of greatest concern in the U.S. are the blacklegged tick (also known as the deer tick in Fairfield and Westchester counties), the Lone Star tick, and the dog tick.
- They usually crawl onto people or animals as they do not jump or fly.
- Ticks that endanger humans also choose deer hosts – as well as other mammals such as mice.
Ticks Represent Real Risks
Ticks are what’s known as a vector of disease, which is to say, even though a tick bite in and of itself is not particularly harmful, you can receive the viruses, bacteria, and other parasites responsible for some pretty terrible diseases. In fact, even more people are affected by tick-borne diseases than those carried by mosquitoes — tens of thousands per year worldwide, of which a few thousand are in the U.S..
Transmittable diseases carried by ticks:
- Anaplasmosis (annually strikes about 600 Americans)
- Babesiosis (mainly in the Northeast and upper Midwestern U.S.)
- Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (outside the U.S.)
- Ehrlichiosis (on the rise, 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 (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.)
Tips to Protect the Whole Family
While Lyme disease is the most prevalent tick-borne disease and has chronic and even debilitating effects, most people misunderstand the symptoms. In fact, many people who contract Lyme disease don’t have any symptoms at all, and the “bullet” style bruise or rash only occurs for some people. That’s why the first defense against the diseases ticks can carry is to protect yourself and your family from ticks themselves.
Treat family pets.
Pets — especially outdoor pets — can not only contract diseases from ticks, but they can be what exposes your family to those ticks and brings them into your home. It’s critical to use pet-specific pest control products in order to protect your animals from disease as well as kill ticks before they reach your loved ones. Talk to your vet about the best options for you and your pet. If you use products picked up in grocery or pet stores, be sure to follow the instructions completely to ensure efficacy.
As with mosquitoes, how you dress outside can go a long way to protecting yourself. Be sure to cover exposed skin and try to wear light-colored clothing, which will help you identify the pests a little more easily.
Check your body and your pets for ticks…
Whenever you come indoors after being in an unprotected area or around unprotected animals, you should check yourself and your loved ones. Some ticks can be as small as the dot in the lowercase “I”, so you’ll need to check very carefully. Kill ticks hidden in clothing by running them through a clothes dryer set on “high”. Be sure to look in areas that would be the first to be exposed (e.g., hair, feet, ankles, arms, around the ears) as well as areas that ticks might seek out on your body (e.g., underarms, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist).
… And remove them promptly!
The longer you’re exposed to the tick, the more your chances of contracting a disease it carries increases. In fact, it can take as long as 36 hours for pathogens to be transferred, so early removal may prevent it altogether. However, that doesn’t mean you should do it in a rush or give in to the urge to follow urban myths surrounding the removal of ticks (e.g., petroleum jelly, nail polish remover, hot matches).
To remove the tick, grasp it with clean tweezers as close to the skin as possible, then pull it straight away from your body in one smooth motion without twisting it. Do not crush the tick; in fact, if you can preserve the tick in a container, it may help your doctor identify what diseases you may have been exposed to. However, you should only do this if you can be sure that the tick cannot escape on someone else. Clean the affected area and your hands with warm water and soap, and sterilize the tweezers.
Practice smart landscaping.
Because ticks live in moist shady areas as opposed to dry, sunny areas, consider separating tick-friendly habitats from your outdoor living areas with gravel or wood chips. You should also use well-trimmed, grassy areas for any playground equipment, patios, decks, or other highly trafficked areas. You can also use plants to repel deer and other carriers, although fencing is more effective for keeping them out, although you need to remember that mice and other small mammals may be carriers as well. Be sure that you keep your yard clear of leaf litter.
Seek professional pest control.
While some DIY tricks are available to prevent ticks, only a licensed professional can evaluate your property and identify the risk areas to determine the best layout for a multi-pronged defense that minimizes environmental impact. From long-lasting barrier sprays to tick tubes, a professional also has access to tools you may not.