Avoiding Ticks This Summer Season

TicksIf you live in Virginia, and especially if you enjoy the outdoors, ticks are simply a part of life in the summer months. However, like many environmental factors, ticks have become an increasing cause of concern for children and adults alike in recent years. Chances are, you’ve experienced a tick bite at some point in your life and if you have pets, you’ve most certainly found a tick or two buried somewhere on your furry friend. But with the rise of Lyme disease and other serious tick-borne illnesses, ticks have become more than just a nuisance and we now need to be more vigilant than ever when combating these pinhead-sized pests.

According to a recent study by Virginia Tech professor and entomologist Eric Day (as reported by Richmond’s own WTVR CBS 6), this year promises an earlier start to tick season in Virginia. Likewise, factors such as a mild winter have led to the increase of ticks. However, of particular concern here in Richmond is the rise of deer tick populations, the carriers of Lyme disease. WTVR reports CDC findings indicating that Lyme disease is at the top of the list of communicable diseases in the Commonwealth.

With ticks, prevention is the best cure

Because ticks are so tiny, they can be hard to spot until it’s too late. Particularly for small children who don’t necessarily understand the need for caution and/or inspections, we, as parents, have to be particularly careful, both in tick bite prevention and treatment.

Here are some ways you can help to prevent ticks from latching on in the first place:

Use a tick repellent spray on bodies and on clothes before going outside.

While not many of us like the idea of loading our kids up with chemicals, in some cases, it’s worth it – as long as we’re smart about the products we use. TickEncounter Resource Center (TERC) at the University of Rhode Island reports that DEET, a common insecticide, alone is not sufficient to prevent ticks. Rather, they suggest coating clothing with Permethrin, which kills ticks on contact, followed by a DEET-based repellent on skin.

If you’re looking for a more homeopathic remedy, some natural oils have proven to be effective tick repellents. Here are a few that have been shown to work based on CDC studies: essential oils from rosemary, lemongrass, thyme, and geraniol plants, essential oil from garlic plants, and essential oil from leaves and stems of the wild tomato plant. Prevention.com also cites oil of lemon eucalyptus as a proven, natural tick repellent.

 

Know where ticks live – and avoid those places. 

Ticks like damp, dark environments, so avoid tall grasses, dense or overgrown areas, and stay in the sun as much as possible. Likewise, if you’re hiking or at a park, stay on the trail. The more you wander into wooded, brushy, or grassy areas, the more likely you are to encounter ticks.

If you have to be in an area described above for activities like yard work, gardening, exploring, etc., cover as much skin as possible. Wear long sleeves and pants, tall socks or boots, and remember to treat your clothing ahead of time. If possible, tuck your pants into your boots or socks to reduce the number of ways in which a tick could make contact with your skin. Likewise, inspect clothing carefully when returning indoors.

 

ALWAYS do a full body check as soon as you come back inside.

This applies to adults and kids! First check your clothes and skin thoroughly, then check your kids. Ticks like to be in warm, hidden, easy-to-burrow places, so check carefully. Common places ticks like to hide according to the CDC include:

  • Underarms
  • In and around ears
  • Belly button
  • Behind knees
  • Near hairlines
  • Between the legs
  • Around the waist

After thoroughly examining yourself and your kids, shower as soon as possible.

 

Check your pets! 

If your pets aren’t already on a tick prevention medicine (prescribed by a vet), then get them on one right away. Even pets that are primarily indoor pets can pick ticks up in your backyard. If you do take them out for a walk or they like to explore, be sure to do a thorough check when you return home. Search similar areas as described above for humans.

 

If found, remove ticks as quickly as possible to avoid disease transmission

If you do encounter a tick on your body or on that of a family member, the key is getting it off as quickly as possible. Chances are, it will have already bitten, so knowing how to properly remove it without breaking off the head is important. TickEncounter Resource Center recommends using pointy tweezers, as opposed to common household tweezers. After disinfecting the site with rubbing alcohol, grab the tick as close to the skin (i.e., the tick’s head) as possible and slowly pull straight up and out, making sure the entirety of the tick is removed. Disinfect the site again.

 

Consult a doctor right away if you feel any symptoms following a tick bite.

The CDC lists early symptoms of Lyme disease including, fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes, as well as a erythema migrans (EM) rash or a “bulls-eye” rash. If you or a family member experiences any of these symptoms after a known tick bite, consult your doctor immediately.

If you’ve been bitten, but were not aware, more severe symptoms can occurs days or even months following a bite. The CDC lists some of the later symptoms as:

  • Severe headaches and neck stiffness
  • Additional EM rashes on other areas of the body
  • Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly the knees and other large joints.
  • Facial palsy (loss of muscle tone or droop on one or both sides of the face)
  • Intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones
  • Heart palpitations or an irregular heart beat (Lyme carditis)
  • Episodes of dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
  • Nerve pain
  • Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Problems with short-term memory

Again, consult your doctor for Lyme disease testing as soon as possible.

 

Unfortunately, ticks are practically unavoidable during a Virginia summer. But there are ways to enhance your safety. Whether you’re out gardening, hiking, exploring by the river, or simply playing with the kids at your local park, remember to be on the lookout, wear light clothing if possible to make ticks stand out more, and always do a check when you get home!

 

For more information about ticks, tick prevention, and Lyme Disease, check out the sites we referenced above:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Tick Encounter Resource Center
WTVR CBS 6