With these pests on the rise this year, it's better to be prepared for them.

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applying bug spray to legs during hike
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Some states, like Ohio, are expected to see a large increase in tick populations this year. Ticks are so small that we usually don't pay much attention to them but we should. Why? Because ticks may transmit diseases, including Lyme (there are nearly 40,000 human cases in the U.S. each year), and the CDC lists 15 diseases that ticks may have in the United States. What's more, some of these diseases are fatiguing if not potentially fatal. Ticks are here to stay, though, so it's important to understand what we are dealing with and how to protect ourselves from these tiny bloodsuckers.

What are ticks?

Ticks belong to the arachnid family, and their eight legs are just one of the ways to tell them apart from other similar-looking creatures. They are not insects or spiders; instead, ticks are considered to be mites. A tick attaches itself to its host using its mouth. Ticks carry blood in their abdomens, and many transmit disease from one host to another.

What diseases do ticks carry?

According to the CDC, the ticks prevalent in the USA carry up to 15 diseases. The blacklegged tick, for examples, is a carrier of Anaplasmosis. Early symptoms of the disease begin one to two weeks after exposure and include fever and chills. Later stages of the disease are fatal and it can lead to respiratory failure and bleeding problems if left untreated.

Another well-known and common tickborne disease is Lyme Disease. The bull's-eye rash is a common indication of having this disease; however, not everyone who contracts Lyme Disease will get a noticeable rash. Between 70 to 80 percent of people who have Lyme Disease experience the rash. Fatigue, aching joints and swollen lymph are a sign of having been infected with this disease. Plus, ticks could transmit any of the following diseases to humans: Anaplasmosis, Bourbon virus infection, Heartland virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), Powassan disease, among a dozen others.

How to protect yourself and pets against ticks?

Pets can be protected against ticks often using the same medication that you give to them to prevent fleas. Check with your veterinarian about the best flea and tick treatment for your pets, especially if you live in an area with high rates of ticks. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent for humans (at least nothing that lasts an entire month).

Instead, treat your clothing and shoes with sprays containing 0.5 percent permethrin. Keep in mind that this chemical is toxic to animals, especially cats, so keep it and your treated clothing away from your pets. You can also use the EPA's insect repellent search tool to find repellents that will work to repell ticks. A natural tick repellent is Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus and there are products approved by the EPA to help keep ticks away from you.

How do you remove ticks?

If you go to an area where ticks may be present, it is a good idea to inspect yourself and your pets. Ticks are about the size of an apple seed and like to go into warm creases. Removing ticks should be done with care. Pulling it off could leave the head still in your body, which increases risk for infection. To remove one, the CDC recommends grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible using tweezers; gently but firmly, pull continuously until the tick loosens its grip, then place the tick in a jar of alcohol to kill it. Anyone—family members or pets—with tick exposure should get a blood test in 30 days to make sure they're still free of disease. Call your doctor if it becomes infected or you start showing signs of a rash or illness.

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