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Tick Talk: Fighting Spring’s Most Abundant Pests

Let’s Talk Ticks!

We have had our first 80-degree day here in CT, so we are greeted by sunny skies…and crawling critters!

Tick-Leaf-Ixodes-Ricinus-996551

Among the most worrisome of the tiny terrors of late spring and summer are nymph-stage, black-legged deer ticks. As you can see from the illustration, they are VERY small, about the size of a pinhead.

cdc_ticksizecomparison

(Adult black-legged ticks, which are more active on warm days in the fall and winter are more likely to be noticed and removed before they transmit Lyme disease.)

In more than two-thirds of cases of Lyme, the affected person does not recall a tick bite or find an engorged tick. It takes 36 to 48 hours of attachment for a tick to give you Lyme disease, and only if the tick is infected with Lyme disease. Only 10 to 35% of nymph ticks carry Lyme disease. But nymph ticks are so small that they are difficult to see until they are engorged with blood, so they are more likely to remain attached more than 36 hours than adult ticks.

When a tick bites, it attaches itself with a Crazy Glue-like plug. (Yuck. Sorry, those are the facts.) After the tick has fed on your blood, it dissolves the glue and drops off to digest your blood (ever see the picture of Templeton the Rat in Charlotte’s Web?). The Lyme organism starts reproducing in the skin and a few days later, the Lyme organism spreads into the blood. That is when the first flu-like symptoms can occur, about seven to ten days after the bite.

Removing a tick:

Do not use petroleum jelly or heat on the tick. Use sharp, needle-tipped tweezers. Grasp the tick right at the skin and pull straight up with a gentle but firm and even pressure. Do not yank or twist. This should remove the entire tick. If the mouth parts stay behind, do not dig them out. It may increase your risk of Lyme infection. Your body will push it out in a few days.

Clean the area with alcohol and apply antibiotic ointment.

You can call the doctor for a one-time preventive dose of Doxycycline 200mg, but only within 72 hours of removing the tick.

Be alert for signs of Lyme disease for the next one to three weeks. When Lyme disease is diagnosed within this time period, Lyme is curable.

It is not really worth sending the tick for testing for Lyme. The result will come back too late to help decide about treatment. But you might want to show your doctor the tick to confirm the type of tick. Put it in a small jar with rubbing alcohol. Or Vodka if you have none!

Protection: Untitled2

The risk of getting Lyme from a tick you find on your body is low, only about 5%, because often you remove it before it transmits Lyme. It’s the ticks that you do not find that usually transmit Lyme Disease. So the trick is NOT TO GET BITTEN!

In keeping with our theme of reducing exposure to toxins, non-chemical ways to reduce the risk of tick bites are in color.

  • Working in the yard: Wear light-colored clothing. Tuck your pants legs into socks. Unfortunately, MOST PEOPLE DO NOT DO THIS! Finely knit socks keep ticks out better. When you come in, put clothes right in the wash. Ticks can actually survive a hot-water wash, but not an hour in the dryer! Ticks live longer in humidity, so keep your home dry if possible.
  • Inspect yourself for ticks.
  • Hiking: Keep to the center of trails.
  • Spraying 20 to 30% DEET on clothes (tops of shoes, socks, pant legs will deter 90% of ticks. I prefer low concentrations of DEET (10%) applied more frequently for high risk activities, than higher concentration. Read labels and apply carefully!
  • 0.5% permethrin can be applied to clothes ONLY. You must wash it off if it gets on skin.  (Example: Repel Clothing and Gear Spray). Follow the directions carefully! You may want to keep treated clothes separate for gardening or hiking. You can retreat the clothes in 2 weeks. Launder your garden clothes before retreating.
  • Natural repellants and Avon Skin-So-Soft generally don’t repel ticks the way they repel mosquitos.

Reducing the hosts for blacklegged ticks: white-footed mice and deer:

  • Move bird feeders away from your home.
  • Plant deer-resistant plants and/or use deer fencing.

Reducing the tick population around your home: 

The blacklegged tick loves the woods most, then the brushy area between woods and the lawn and lastly the lawn. Shady lawn harbors more ticks than sunny. 80% of ticks live in the last 3 feet of the lawn perimeter if your home abuts woodlands.

  • If possible, having non-plant paths to your most travelled areas, like your mailbox, will reduce Lyme risk.
  • Keep your grass mowed.
  • Remove brush and leaves around walls, wood piles, etc.
  • Widen any trails around your home.
  • Move all children’s play yards away from a woodland edge of your property.
  • Instead of lawn, consider wildflower gardens, or herb gardens on your property with paths.
  • Chickens and turkeys may feast on ticks, but probably not enogh to sidnificantly reduce the ticks in your lawn. Fungi that are pathogenic to ticks are in development. These could be a great option.
  • For severe infestations, topical pesticides can be applied. This should only be done by a licensed commercial company. But even the safer pyrethrins (with or without diatomaceous earth and insecticidal soaps) are toxic to fish and in Connecticut cannot be used on school grounds.

Hope this helps. Have a great weekend! 

Dr. Nolfo 

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