How to Avoid Tick Bites

Authorities are predicting a greater than usual tick population throughout much of the continental United States throughout 2017. Couple this with research that shows that the ticks that spread tickborne diseases such as Lyme disease are no longer confined to just a few areas of the country and you have more reason than ever to learn how to avoid tick bites.

The ABCs of Preventing Tick Bites

  • AVOID areas where ticks are most likely to be, such as wooded areas, bushes and tall grasses. Ticks thrive in these areas, hiding under leaves, on thin blades of grass and more. Brushing against vegetation where ticks are living and walking through leaf litter exposes you to ticks. If you are in these types of areas, walk through the center of the path, avoiding as much contact as possible with the surrounding vegetation.
  • BUG SPRAY – Both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Mayo Clinic recommend the use of an insect repellent that contains a concentration of at least 20 percent DEET on your exposed skin, avoiding eyes, mouth and hands, making sure to follow label instructions and an application of either the same DEET insect repellent to your clothes or use a product that contains permethrin on your clothes. Additionally, there are commercially-available products that the manufacturers say repel and/or kill ticks that contain natural rather than man-made chemicals. The EPA has tested these products for their safety of use, but not their effectiveness.
  • CLOTHING – Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, socks, hat and gloves. Tuck pant legs into the top of your socks or use tape around the bottom of your pants legs to prevent ticks from crawling under your pants/socks. Keep long hair pinned up, preventing another means for the crawling arachnids access to your body. Wear light-colored clothing when possible so it is easier to spot any ticks present.

These are the basic strategies to use to avoid exposure of your body to ticks, but there is more you should know to keep yourself and your family safe from exposure to tick bites and the possibility of being exposed to one or more of the tickborne diseases.

  • When returning to your residence after being outdoors, remove whatever clothing possible, such as gloves, hat, shoes and socks before going indoors to reduce the chance of taking any ticks indoors. Ticks, considered to be external parasites, can easily hide, many of them being no larger than the head of a pin.
  • Inspect any clothing you can’t remove for the presence of ticks and remove them before going indoors.
  • Take a bath or shower to remove any ticks that may be crawling on your body. Many times ticks don’t latch on to bite immediately, so bathing/showering with the use of a washcloth should get rid of any ticks not yet attached.
  • Inspect your body daily any time you’ve been in an area where ticks are present. Pay special attention to the warmest areas of your body – armpits, groin, scalp and skin folds – and don’t forget to check between and under toes.
  • Clothing can be placed in a dryer and tumbled on high heat for an hour to kill any ticks that may be present, or first laundered in hot water then placed in the dryer on high heat for an hour.

This map, developed by researchers tracking the incidence of Lyme disease in dogs from 2011 through 2015, reveals that the causative organism for the disease has been found in areas of the United States outside that of what has commonly been thought to be the “Lyme disease belt” of the northeast and upper midwest portions of the country. It seems reasonable to extrapolate from this that if the ticks carrying Lyme disease to dogs are in these areas, the ticks can potentially transmit the disease through bites to humans in the same areas:

journal.pone.0174428.g001 image of United States map

Map showing incidence of Lyme disease in dogs in the U.S. 2011 through 2015

What to Do If You Find a Tick Attached

There may be times that despite your best efforts to avoid tick bites that you find one or more attached to your skin or that of a family member. If that happens, don’t panic, but follow these tips to remove the biting tick as safely as possible.

  • Do NOT use a hot match, nail polish, or any other products to try to kill or remove the tick.
  • Use tweezers or forceps; in the absence of these tools, use your fingers covered with a tissue or a glove to avoid touching the tick itself.
  • Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, avoiding crushing or squeezing the body of the tick.
  • Pull up and away from the skin in a steady motion to dislodge the tick.

  • Remember that any fluids inside the tick may be infectious, so don’t handle the tick with bare hands or manipulate the tick in any way that you may come into contact with its bodily fluids.
  • Clean the tick bite with an antiseptic and wash your hands.
  • While most directions say to dispose of the tick after removal, you may instead want to place it inside a zippered plastic bag or other small, secure container for identification, and later, should any symptoms of a tickborne disease appear, the tick can be laboratory-tested for the presence of infectious organisms.
  • Contact a health care professional if you are unable to remove a tick, such as on your back, or if you have any concerns about incomplete tick removal.
  • If you develop a fever or a rash within several weeks following a tick bite, contact a health care professional. If you’ve saved the tick that bit you, take it with you when you visit the health care professional. It will also be important to explain when the tick bite occurred and where the tick as acquired because certain disease-carrying ticks are more prevalent in some regions than in others.

Related Reading: Signs and Symptoms of Tickborne Diseases

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