Thwart Ticks Through: 1 Repellents, 2 Early Detection, and 3 Prompt Removal

The lone star tick and the American dog tick (Figure 1) are the most common tick species found on humans and companion animals in Kentucky. These ticks are significant threats to everyone who works, plays, hunts, hikes, or camps in or around overgrown or undisturbed areas.

Figure 1. Adult female lone star tick (left) with white “star” and long mouthparts and an adult female American dog tick (right) with mottled white markings on its back (Photo: Lee Townsend, UK).

Reactions to bites vary from person to person based on the body’s response to the salivary mix injected as ticks feed. The special misery of the lone star tick bite can linger for 7 to 10 days and there is the potential for secondary infection if the wound is contaminated during scratching. Both species are potential vectors of diseases. Fortunately, the chances of encountering an infected tick is low (see EntFacts-618). Awareness and personal protection are keys to reducing the potential for tick bites.

1, 2, 3s of Personal Protection

(1) Repellents

Repellents foil the last steps in the detection systems that ticks and other blood-feeding arthropods follow when seeking a blood meal. Applied according to label directions, repellents can safely protect people from bites. The array of repellents available for biting arthropods can be overwhelming. Check products for the Environmental Protection Agency’s repellency graphic (Figure 2) that helps you to select appropriate products for ticks and/or mosquitoes and approximate durations of protection. Check with your veterinarian for options for companion animals.

(2) Early Detection

Check yourself hourly for ticks while outdoors and then again thoroughly at the end of the day. Prompt removal is the key to avoiding painful and potentially health-threatening bites because ticks usually wander for some time before finding a suitable feeding site (Figure 3). In addition, infected ticks must feed for several hours before transferring pathogens. Clearly, early detection and prompt removal are key strategies to protection.

Figure 2. Example EPA repellency graphic helps to identify targets of repellents and approximate duration of protection. (Source: Environmental Protection Agency)

Figure 3. The favored attachment site for the American dog tick is the head or neck. The lone star tick prefers the lower extremities, groin, waist, and underarms (Photo: Lee Townsend, UK)

(3) Prompt Removal

Remove an attached tick carefully using fine-tipped tweezers. Grasp it as close to the skin as possible and pull upward with a steady, even pressure. Clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Dispose of the tick in alcohol or store it for later identification.

Figure 4. Correct removal of an attached tick with fine-tipped tweezers. (Source: Centers for Disease Control)


By Lee Townsend, Extension Entomologist



Posted in Human Pests