Ticks are climbing on low growing vegetation in and along trails in wooded areas as they seek their first blood meal of the year. Many tick species can carry diseases. Fortunately, the incidence of tick-borne diseases in Kentucky is low. However, reducing exposure to ticks, using available protective methods, and regular inspection for, and removal of, ticks are good habits and key actions to protect your health.
To reduce the possibility of being bitten by ticks and other blood-feeding arthropods, you should:
1. Use a repellent on exposed skin. EPA-registered repellents include products containing DEET (N,N-diethylmetatoluamide) and picaridin (KBR 3023). DEET concentrations of 30% to 50% are effective for several hours. Picaridin, available at 7% and 15 % concentrations, needs more frequent applications to provide protection. Protect infants less than 2 months of age by using a carrier draped with mosquito netting that has an elastic edge for a tight fit.
2. Wear light-colored clothing so ticks can be more easily seen. Tuck long pants into socks to keep ticks from reaching the skin.
3. Inspect your body and clothing for ticks during outdoor activity and at the end of the day. Remove ticks as soon as they are found (see below).
4. Apply permethrin-containing products (e.g., Permanone) or other insect repellents to clothing and shoes for greater protection. Permethrin is not labeled for use directly on skin. Most repellent is generally removed from clothing and gear by a single washing but permethrin-treated clothing is effective for up to 5 washings.
Barbed mouthparts and cement secreted while feeding cause ticks to be anchored firmly to the skin. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible. Then, pull upward with steady, even pressure. The longer the tick has been in place, the harder it is to remove. Twisting or “unscrewing” the tick may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite site and wash your hands with soap and water.
For removal of attached ticks:
1. Use fine-tipped tweezers and protect your fingers from direct contact with a tissue, paper towel, or rubber gloves.
2. Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. (If this happens, remove mouthparts with tweezers. Consult your healthcare provider if infection occurs.)
3. Do not squeeze, crush, or puncture the body of the tick because its fluids may contain infectious organisms.
4. Do not handle the tick with bare hands because infectious agents may enter through mucous membranes or breaks in the skin. This precaution is particularly directed to individuals who remove ticks from domestic animals with unprotected fingers. Children, the elderly, and immune-compromised persons may be at greater risk of infection and should avoid this procedure.
5. After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite site and wash your hands with soap and water.
6. You may wish to save the tick for identification in case you become ill within 2 to 3 weeks. Your doctor can use the information to assist in making an accurate diagnosis. Place the tick in a plastic bag and put it in your freezer or store it in a container with some rubbing alcohol as a preservative. Write the date of the bite on a piece of paper with a pencil and place it in the bag.
By Lee Townsend, Extension Entomologist