First, let's learn a little bit about ticks...... Ticks are scientifically classified as Arachnida, which means they are related to spiders. No wonder they give people the creeps! A tick's life cycle includes eggs, larvae, nymphs, and adult. The larvae, nymphs, and adults all need blood meals to survive. Although ticks will die if they don't feed, many species can live up to a year or more without a meal. Usually the female adult is the one causing the most bites, as males usually die after mating.
Ticks do not jump or fly, they simply reach out with their legs and grab or crawl onto a host (aka you or an animal.) Folks who walk through grassy and wooded areas are at higher risk for tick bites. Guess what? The oldest country kid had been playing in the woods. Ticks are most active from April through September, but I was hoping with the extremely hard winter we had this year their numbers would be down.
So what can you do to avoid getting a tick? Well you could hide in your house for the rest of your life, but you would really be missing out! So, being realistic you can:
- Avoid grassy areas or woods (but what fun is that?)
- Wear light colored clothing as ticks are easier to spot and brush off before they attach.
- If your going to be somewhere where ticks are likely to be (grassy areas, woods) wear long pants and tuck your pant legs into your socks. This way the ticks can't just crawl up your leg for a free meal.
- You could use an insect repellent that targets ticks. If you go this route you are going to need DEET which is not recommended for small children.
- Do "tick checks" in the evenings before bed. Go over every inch of yourself and children. I once as a child had a tick square in the top of my head! My mom felt it when she ran her fingers through my hair doing a tick check.
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever - Symptoms include headache, fever, and fatigue about a week after exposure. A few days later, a rash develops. Other possible symptoms include confusion, abdominal pain, and vomiting. Most cases require hospitalization.
- Lyme Disease - Symptoms start with a red rash that is call the "bullseye" as it is an expanding red ring, with flue like symptoms. If left untreated, the infection can produce abnormalities in the joints, heart, and nervous system.
So what do you do if you do find a tick who has decided to pull up a chair and have a meal on you? You need to remove it!! The faster you get it off the less time it has to transmit something to you. But how do you get it off? Growing up I was taught to use a match, blown out and touched to the tick to get it to release. Guess what? I have yet to have it actually work. In fact, I have learned that you should NOT do this, or paint the tick with nail polish, gasoline or any other "folk remedy" as it can actually cause the tick to release fluid back into the bite, upping your chance for infection! Here is how you remove a tick:
- Calm the effected person. The oldest country kid was hysterical when he learned he had a tick. Even if you are totally creeped out, breath, and pretend to be calm, because it is much easier to work on someone who isn't wiggling around.
- Grab your tweezers and firmly grab the tick as close to the head as possible. Don't twist and turn, just gently pull straight out. Breaking off and leaving the head increases you chance of infection. If you break the head off, see your doctor.
- The tick's mouth is barbed so you may have to pull, a lot. I was amazed how much I had to pull to get the oldest country kid's off. But then again, I don't know how long it had been digging in. *yuck*
- Don't smash the tick.... place it in some clear tap just in case the person it came off becomes ill, this way you will want to be able to show it to the doctor. Or in our case, the oldest country kid became fascinated with all its parts. Ah the joy of natural science!
- Clean the bite area with a mild disinfectant. We apply antibiotic cream to the area as well. The antibiotic cream is to prevent a local infection (It does not affect the chance of developing diseases. I also put an anti-itch cream as the country kid was claiming the bite was bugging him.
- Observe the area for several days for development of a reaction to the bite, such as a rash or signs of infection.
Now that you know more about ticks, probably more then you wanted, get out there this summer and have fun. Don't be afraid, just keep your eyes open. And remember to do your tick checks!