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Tick Talk: Be proactive to prevent tick bites this year

This year there are more tick bites being reported than in previous years. To prevent tick bites, be proactive and know how to help prevent them.

Ticks will hide on a blade of grass or other plants waiting for a potential host to walk by – reaching out with its legs the tick catches a ride on an unsuspecting host; this behavior called “questing” will catch many people off guard during the tick season.

People enjoying outdoor activities such as walking, fishing, biking or those traveling through wooded or grassy areas have greater exposure to ticks – leafy, damp areas and brush areas are also areas to avoid during tick season. To avoid ticks when traveling in these areas, use paths and stay in the center of paths, avoid sitting on the ground, and conduct frequent tick checks every two to three hours if you are utilizing these areas to protect yourself from these specialized little creatures.

Tick on skin close-up photo
Use precautions and be aware of places ticks inhabit and check for ticks on your clothes and body to decrease the chance of getting a tick bite this summer. Photo by Julie Geiser

Ticks are arachnids, like spiders and mites, and have eight tiny legs that are covered with short, spiny hairs – each with a claw at the end of it. The spiny hair and claw serve two purposes: to grasp blades of grass, leaves or other vegetation and to grasp a person or animal that passes by the tick’s ambush site. Ticks specialized legs also have sensory organs that detect or smell carbon dioxide, odors, and heat given off by warm blooded animals. Many ticks have eyes that can see color or movement, which aides them when they attempt to grab a ride from a host.

Once on its host, the tick will travel across clothing, hair or skin to find a warm place to attach itself to feed on the host’s blood. Finding a tick before it attaches to the skin is the best way to prevent a bite.

Tick-checks should include a visual inspection of clothing and exposed skin – followed by a full-body examination when you return to your tent, camper or home. Check the scalp, behind and in the ears, behind body creases like armpits, the groin area, in back of the knee and nape of the neck, as these are areas ticks favor. If a tick is not found and removed in the field or before it attaches to the skin, a tick will pierce its host’s skin to start drawing blood.

Once the skin is broken, the mouthpart of a tick called a hypostome is inserted into the skin. The hypostome has reverse harpoon-like barbs making it difficult to remove the tick. Ticks will also secrete a cement-like substance from their saliva, which further fastens the tick to its host making the tick even harder to remove.

To remove a tick, use fine point tweezers or a tick removal tool to grasp the tick by the head or mouth, located next to the skin. If you must remove the tick with your fingers use a tissue or leaf to avoid contact with infected tick fluids. Once you have the tick by the head, gently pull the tick straight out. Try not to grab the tick by the body, prick, crush or burn the tick as it may release infected fluids or tissue into the host. Trying to smother the tick with petroleum jelly, alcohol or nail polish also increases the chance of transmitting disease. Ticks removed in 24 hours or less reduces the chance of getting Lyme disease, the most common disease spread by ticks.

Once the tick is removed wash your hands, disinfect the tweezers and bite site. It is a good idea to make your own tick removal kit including fine point tweezers, antiseptic, and a roll of clear tape or a small baggie. Keep the tick enclosed between two pieces of tape or in a baggie in case an illness occurs; it can then be tested for disease.

While disease is rare, if there is an illness it usually starts with a rash 3 to 30 days after the bite. The rash appears as a solid red expanding rash or blotch or a central spot surrounded by clear skin that is ringed by a red rash that looks like a bull’s-eye.

Accompanying the rash in the early stages will be symptoms including fatigue, achiness, headaches and swelling of lymph glands near the bite. Later a victim may have enhanced symptoms like pain in the joints, stiff, aching neck, tingling or numbness in the extremities, sore throat, changes in vision, fevers and severe fatigue. Protecting yourself from a tick before it attaches to the skin is important and there are ways to help detect ticks before they bite.

Dressing properly will help protect you from ticks. Wearing light colored clothing allows you to see ticks on your clothing and gives you the opportunity to remove them before they can attach to your skin. Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants to reduce the skin area exposed to ticks. Tuck your shirt into your pants and pants into your socks – this will keep the ticks on the outside of your clothing and keeps exposure to skin to a minimum.

Use a tick repellent that contains 20% DEET. Children should have an adult apply any repellent to keep it out of tender eyes, mouths and off hands. Repellents can help protect you from ticks and they work well; wash off the repellents when you return inside for the day. Products containing permethrin will kill ticks and can be used on boots, clothing, camping gear and other outdoor equipment to keep ticks away. Permethrin should not have direct contact with skin.

The more you are outside the better the chances of being on the receiving end of a tick bite become – use precautions and be aware of places ticks inhabit to decrease the chance of getting a tick bite.

About julie geiser

Julie Geiser is a Public Information Officer and NEBRASKAland Regional Editor based out of North Platte, where she was born and still happily resides. Geiser worked for the commission previously for over 10 years as an outdoor education instructor – teaching people of all ages about Nebraska’s outdoor offerings. She also coordinates the Becoming an Outdoors Woman program for Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC). Geiser went on to work in marketing and writing an outdoor column for the North Platte Telegraph before returning to NGPC in her current position. She loves spending time outdoors with her family and getting others involved in her passions of hunting, fishing, camping, boating, hiking and enjoying Nebraska’s great outdoors.

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