Tick Prevention and Management

Given their capacity to carry Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick prevention is a must if you're spending time in wooded areas. Here are 10 tips we recommend.
By Barbara Pleasant
June/July 2010
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The tick prevention strategies you use to survive tick season should encompass more than chemical insecticides.
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If you live near or often spend time in a wooded area, blood-sucking ticks are part of your world. When tick populations rise in July and August, you’ll again feel those familiar tickling sensations on your legs and neck, and again drag the dog into the sunlight so you can spot and remove those darn ticks. During this process, you may be wondering whether there are better ways to survive tick season, especially if you don’t want to use DEET (a chemical insecticide that may cause eye irritation, rash, or other side effects) on yourself or veterinarian-grade pesticides on your pets. Even if you do use chemicals in your tick management plan, it’s still a good idea to back them up with natural tick prevention strategies.

The stakes can be high. First described in 1977 as “Lyme arthritis,” tick-vectored (transmitted) Lyme disease is now the most common critter-vectored disease in North America. More than 30,000 cases were reported in 2008, including many in towns and cities where no previous infections had been recorded. Like an invasive weed, Lyme disease is slowly spreading inland from its stronghold along the northern Atlantic coast. 

Caused by the bacterium Borrelia brugdorferi, Lyme disease is carried by deer ticks (also known as black-legged ticks). White-footed mice frequently serve as reservoirs for the bacteria, as do deer and many other mammals. Ticks are most likely to transmit Lyme disease to humans when they are tiny nymphs (juvenile ticks), only slightly bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. Other tick species transmit diseases as well, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever. So no matter where you live, preventing ticks from finding you and your pets is always a good idea. To help you stay ahead of these pests, here are the top 10 natural ways to make tick season easier to take.

1. Dress Defensively. When you venture into areas where ticks might be waiting, dress for the occasion. Wear a hat and light-colored clothing (to help you see ticks before they find skin), and tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks. You may look goofy, but it’s better than becoming a tick’s dinner.

2. Get Sticky. Keep a sticky tape-type lint roller handy if you’re finding ticks regularly. This little gizmo will pick up unattached ticks from clothing or pets, which bring hitchhiking ticks into the house. Use any type of sticky tape to cleanly capture ticks crawling in your home.

3. Clean Up Your Act. When you come indoors after outside activities, give your clothes a 10-minute spin in a hot clothes dryer to kill any ticks that might be hiding in the folds or seams. Then take a hot, soapy bath or shower. Unattached ticks will be flushed away, but you will still need to do a tick check of your body.

4. Do Tick Checks. Ticks must feed for 36 to 48 hours in order to transmit Lyme disease, so regularly checking yourself for ticks after you’ve been in wooded areas is a hugely effective preventive measure. Look for tiny and foreign dark dots, especially in moist body creases in the armpits, groin, hairline, scalp, waistband and the backs of your knees. Let someone else check you, if possible, because it’s difficult to check your own scalp and backside. Because of their tiny size, it is entirely possible to carry a nymph on your body long enough for it to feed and then drop off without you ever knowing you were bitten, so be sure to check often and carefully. Check yourself before bed, too.

5. Upgrade Your Tick Removal Equipment. If you’re using tweezers or a pair of forceps to remove an attached tick from yourself or your pets, you’re doing it the hard way. Instead, try using small tick removal “spoons” such as the Tick Twister for little deer ticks, Ticked Off for any size ticks, or a Tick Key tick remover for larger dog ticks. All of these devices cost less than $5 and they are worth every penny. Look for them at pet stores or from online merchants.

6. Put Poultry to Work. Ticks have few natural predators, but many MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers report that their flocks of poultry have made big impacts on tick populations. In a study from South Africa, chickens were found to eat an average of 10 ticks per hour. (Click to read more about poultry pest control. — MOTHER)

7. Welcome Wildlife. Your homestead is less likely to become a Lyme disease hot spot if it includes numerous species of mammals, birds, and reptiles for ticks to feed on instead of white-footed mice. Newly hatched tick larvae are disease-free, and if they feed on animals that are poor reservoirs of Lyme disease — most squirrels, for example — fewer nymphs will be infected.

8. Maintain Mowed Buffer Zones. Ticks sometimes do wander onto the edges of lawns, but they are most likely to find you as you walk through tall grass, work around low shrubbery, or hang out in shady, mulched areas. Open lawn makes poor tick habitat, so a swath of lawn makes a good buffer zone between your house and the wilder habitats preferred by ticks.

9. Perfume Your Pants. If you must venture into tick territory often, pump up the deterrent properties of your pants. Commercially made plant-based pesticides that deter ticks are made with lemon eucalyptus oil (available in Repel products as well as Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Spray). It’s fragrant stuff, so you may prefer heavily treating your pants and socks better than slathering it on your skin.

If tick levels are high and you need to be in their habitat a lot, you may want to try the pesticide permethrin on your clothes. David Duffy, professor of botany at the University of Hawaii, led a study of the effectiveness of guinea fowl in reducing tick populations in New York. Duffy says he and the other researchers involved in his study protected themselves by spraying their clothing (long trousers tucked into socks) with permethrinbased products.

“It locks on to fabric, so it doesn’t come off in the wash,” he says. “We lined our trousers up on the porch, sprayed them and let them dry. They were good for five or six washes each, or two weeks at least.”

10. Track Any Attacks. If you do find an attached tick, remove it carefully with tweezers, forceps, or a tick removal tool, wipe the bite with an antiseptic, and circle it with a permanent marker. Check the bite location every few days for a rash or other unusual inflammation, and promptly seek medical attention if you see or experience any symptoms of Lyme disease (see “Could It Be Lyme Disease?” below). The disease is curable if treated in its early stages, but if you wait too long, you could be in for a long and difficult recovery.


Could It Be Lyme Disease?

In addition to a “bull’s-eye” rash and soreness near the tick bite itself, other early signs of Lyme disease infection resemble the flu and can include chills, fever, joint pain, and fatigue accompanied by swollen lymph nodes near the bite. If you have flu-like symptoms and an inflamed bite — even if you never saw a tick — you should see a doctor right away. Several antibiotics are highly effective when taken during the first few weeks after the bacteria enter your body. If Lyme disease is not treated promptly, the bacteria will move into your muscles, nerves, joints, and brain. Late stage Lyme disease is debilitating, causing severe arthritis, mental confusion, numbness of the arms and legs, and heart problems.


Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on .


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Post a comment below.

 

cate
6/11/2014 3:14:27 AM
Hi! Living in the southern part of Sweden we are also beeing attacked by ticks! Having had Borrelia a few times I started to sweep my garden with a big white terry cloth towel from the beginning of March to the end of September. The ticks caught are easily attached to a piece of scotch tape and then packed in a heavy brown tape for transfer to the holy hunting grounds. We are no longer feeding the birds during winter, which is sad but necessary, cause we have enough of them bugs already. ( I catch about 80 every week).

AC246
5/29/2014 10:24:18 AM
This is a great article. I would add that Permethrin is toxic to bees if applied to weeds/flowers they visit. There is some research showing it can be cancerous. Be cautious and apply as directed: http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/REDs/factsheets/permethrin_fs.htm

Symonds
8/18/2013 4:00:00 AM
These spiders pose a serious threat to the lives and health of http://www.wolfsbanek9.com/. Pesticides cannot be used on them since they also hurt dog health. Will you please try to explain what is the way out in this situation?

mike
7/16/2013 12:11:03 PM
Sorry, that I am off the subject, Does anyone info on how to get rid of "BIRD MITES" have invaded our house and nested on my wife, Have tried doctor, soaps, scrubs, my wife is being bitten all the time., Help

andreamckinney
5/21/2013 8:19:29 PM

andreamckinney
5/21/2013 8:18:42 PM

The map above is seriously out of date - tick borne diseases including all of the ones identified here have been found in my county, Halifax county of Virginia, even though the map shows it as zero risk.  Not mentioned so far is another disease spread by ticks. Human babesiosis is a tick-borne infectious disease caused by intraerythrocytic protozoan species of the genus Babesia transmitted by Ixodes. Babesia microti is the most common cause of human babesiosis endemic in USA on the northeastern seabord and the upper midwest. The first confirmed case was a normosplenic individual on Nantucket Island published in 1970 http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2334/13/99#B1[http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2334/13/99#B2]. After additional cases the disease became known as Nantucket fever. The incubation period may last from 1 to 9 weeks and clinical features are similar to those of malaria. The severity is variable depending on the immune status of the host, ranging from an asymptomatic infection to a severe life threatening disease http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2334/13/99#B3[2]. Severe disease generally occurs in patients over the age of 50 years or with splenectomy, malignancy, HIV, or immunosuppressive medication. B. microti infections can also rarely be acquired by transfusion of blood products from asymptomatic donors [3]. In Europe few isolated cases have been reported related to other Babesia species: B. divergens and B. venatorum. Most of European cases are observed in splenectomized patients


shannon.kildare
5/20/2013 8:43:25 PM

Years ago, I read that brewer's yeast is good to give your pets -- for general health and nutrition, but also to keep away fleas and ticks.  I've heard of the garlic remedy, too.  But I think you have to be careful about giving garlic to dogs --- best ask your vet.  I am currently giving pets organic sulfur powder, as it has a natural antibiotic effect without the side effects. Sulfur is also purported to ward off all the flies, fleas, ticks and parasites.  If you do this, it MUST be "food grade" or "feed grade" for consumption --- NOT the type you put on your lawn and garden.This is hard to find... you can get a big bag online from Lancaster.  Humans wishing to supplement with sulfur should use MSM --- it is sulfur found in tablet or capsule form at your health food store. It oxygenates the body,too, and is especially good for arthritis.


RosieWho
5/20/2013 1:20:39 PM

I use a safe cedar oil on my cats.  There are several companies that make this, Cedarcide, Wondercide etc.  It was first created for the troops to use in the desert conflicts (major flea problems).  It's safe for humans and pets and kills fleas and ticks (any biting insect)  I LIGHTLY mist my cats and also any place they like to perch when they come in (couch, chair etc).  Doesn't stain.

I've sprayed it right on a tick when I find one on me.  A couple of seconds and they back out and fall off.  It suffocates them.

 


pilgrimwebshop
5/20/2013 1:06:28 PM

Great post! Just want to mention that there are some doctors out there who believe in long-term antibiotic treatment (MUCH longer than AMA recommendations) for more advanced cases; if you or someone you know suffers from a more advanced case (or you're just curious) I really recommend viewing the documentary "Under our Skin". 

For pets, I've heard varying reports of success with garlic and/or apple cider vinegar as either a dietary supplement (feed your pet vinegar and/or garlic, good luck), or as a topical spray (which I would assume would be a problem AFTER your dog is outdoors, and your couch now smells like garlic). My dog cannot stay out of water (swamps, muddy puddles in the woods, etc) which there seems to be plenty of during the peak of tick season, so he gets a bath almost every time - this seems to work as I find many more ticks on myself than him. If this doesn't work for you, I'd try using tea tree oil - this stuff works well on other parasites (fleas, lice, ringworms, etc), so possibly it may work for ticks too? 


Melissa
6/1/2012 11:16:25 PM
Is there a solution that can be made to put on my dogs?

gardener_3
6/20/2011 9:48:46 PM
If a tick has been on you for a few hours it makes sense to take Homeopathic Ledum 30 C which is a remedy for all puncture wounds. I take it 3 times a day after being bit. I also put a charcole poultice on the bite to cause the wound to fester and expell any bacteria that may have been injected under the skin. I had one on me for 24 hours and after I got the tick off the bite site was sore to the touch . The charcole poultice and ledum caused the bite to fester and the soreness to go away in two days.

Finula McCaul_2
6/19/2011 3:56:39 PM
This is all very good information. I just wanted to add about mechanical defense. If ticks are in vegetation & you brush through, they are going to grab you. When you pick up several thousand newly hatched ticks they are fairly visible, but if you only get a few, they tend to be about exactly the same size and color of a small freckle. It is very hard to recognize them.Complete cover up is your best defense in the field, & regular self examination. The next important thing is that you should assume that you are carrying some home with you. Yes, you need to get out of those clothes. Don't sit anywhere, don't stand around on carpet. Don't give them a chance to drop off and hide. Your family and pets are still vulnerable. Take off the clothes, stick them in a plastic bag. Do your strip search. Remember to check your hair. Try to keep track of where your own freckles are. Then either stick your clothing in the wash to be sure they are dead and gone, or set them outside on something hot like the hood of a car or brick. Let them back out.And for Chiggers, they don't hitchhike, but they can also get onto you mechanically. In a decade of working in forestry, I only got them twice. In both cases it was so hot & humid that clothing clung & chaffed, & in both cases I was going through blackberrys or Spanish moss. The normal prey of chiggers is small animals, They wait for them and jump on, like ticks. Chiggers dig into your skin, and damp chafing clothing is ideal for them.

alicia
6/19/2011 3:10:50 PM
If you light a cigarrete or a red hot match to their butt they get out of the animal's skin right away. The whole insect comes out ... and then... the tick's life is at your hands.

Deborah Saffold
6/19/2011 8:16:06 AM
We live in Cedar County MO. This year we had ticks for 11 months out of the year with a large population beginning in early Spring. We have not been able to get Guineas again yet (we just moved here) but we had extremely good success with controlling the ticks in at our place in Oregon County which, as here, was extremely rural. Our Guinea house is going up shortly!

Harold D Halliburton
6/10/2011 10:25:21 AM
I read and have used the following trick for some time now and it works great. It seems that tick love me and will go to great length to hunt me down. Take a cotton ball and wet it then rub it on a bar of soap until it it is like a paste on the cotton. Rub the cotton ball around on the tick in a counter clockwise motion (why ccw? I don't know. That's what I read and that's what works.) It takes a minute or so of rubbing, so don't give up. The tick will turn loose and be stuck to the cotton ball. No chance of leaving the head or parts of the mouth in the bite as you could do if you removed the tick by pulling it off.

George_41
7/16/2010 1:21:39 AM
I had my first, personal tick experience this year. The grass I was in didn't even cover the instep on my sneakers, so I'm not sure how I picked up the tick. I was wearing cargo shorts, and when I sat down in a chair about 10 minutes later, I noticed the tick on my right thigh. I removed it, as it had not yet gotten a firm grasp on my skin. A gentleman I work with is currently being treated for a tick bite. He woke up one day with a welt on his right calf that was the size of a man's hand. There was no visible bite mark, and the actual irritation wasn't painful or itchy. His doctor told him that the worst case scenario was that it was Lyme Disease, that's what he would treat him for, since the antibiotics would work regardless of the actual condition or reason for the irritation.

nick_16
7/6/2010 5:35:21 PM
having had lyme disease i feel i need to clear a few points up in this article. -A tick does not need to feed on you for 36-48 hours to contract lyme or ANY tick born disease. (there are many) -The 'bulls eye' does not always show up (lack of bulls eye doesn't mean have not contracted anything) -tests for lyme are unreliable, therefore their are cases in which the diagnosis must be made clinically based on symptoms. -If you are bite and believe the tick was a deer tick, see your doctor and get 2-3 days of antibiotics. (it beats 6 months plus that you could be put on if you wait too long...) hope this helps

klohma
7/6/2010 2:24:46 PM
Since I'm McTick burger, 4 bazillion servered here, when I walk into the woods I soak my clothes in a permethrin solution. Learned this in the army as I was issued kits to soak my uniform in. The soaking kit used 9 mililiters at a 40 percent permethrin solution in 18 ounces of water. Roll up your pants and shirt seperatly then mix 18 ounces of water and 1.25 ounces of permethrin soultion into a large ziplock bag, one for each garment. YOu would have to use 1.25 ounces as this is from the off the shelf mix that my farm supply store sells which is at a 10 percent solution, 1.25 ounces comes out to about 36 mililiters which equals the 40 percent at 9 mililiters that the military uses. Soak for three hours and hang till dry. Package says this will last the life of the garment or 100 washings. To complete my protection I spray all exposed areas, along with the waist area and boots for added protection, with Cutters and tuck the pants leg into the boots. Have not had a problem with ticks or chiggers here in Arkansas when I follow this method. NOTE: The farm store bought permethrin solution is at ten percent, so this comes out to about 1.25 ounces to mix in with the water to soak clothes. One mix for one garment and use a large xiplock bag to seal the soultion so it won't leak.

Raymond Looper_1
7/5/2010 10:58:02 PM
When I lived in south Texas the ticks were very bad. An old timmer told me if you take garlic tabs twice a day the ticks will not bite you. They will get on you, but will not bite. Take the tabs for three days before you go into the woods.It worked for me.

jim adams
7/5/2010 11:55:14 AM
part 2: the tape? i tear off a 3 or 4 foot length of duct tape and then tear it in half lengthwise. I wrap this around a paper clip,piece of cardboard or a twig. I fold the end over half an inch. That way, i can pull out 2 or 3 inches of tape and go dab, dab, dab until the tape is full. Wind up on the folded over end, pull out some more tape and continue until the ticks are all gone. My record in SW Missouri for one afternoon walk was 5 seed tick clusters and lots of the other sizes. No bites, tho. The deticker tape is for when you'd rather be ticked off than ticked on. Part 2: biting seed ticks can be pulled out with the deticker tape but larger sizes can't. Use your fingers or the gizmos TMEN mentions. Bites: run hot water on the bite for half a minute or more. A shower hose with a massage setting hammers hot water against the bite tho the bathtub spigot works too. It causes your body to expand the blood vessels in and around the bite and if you massage the bite lightly, it will get the itchy toxins out of there. Do this 3 or 4 times the first day, 2 or 3 times the second day and maybe a time or two the third day. I scratch the tip of the bite off and put Bag Balm (a veterinary antibiotic salve favored by animal farmers) on the now open bite .. to kill of the 2ndary infection bugs. That's what works well out here in the country. Enjoy being with nature

jim adams
7/5/2010 11:33:29 AM
hmmmmph...city folks. In tick country, there are almost always chiggers too. And chiggers are small enough to crawl between the threads of socks and end up biting around ankles, behind knees , and other tight places. The clothing of choice in the heat of summer in tick country is sandals, short shorts and an unbuttoned shirt (for sun and twig protection) That way, on unshaven legs at least, i can feel the ticks moving and i don't feel i have to drop my pants to pull the dam thing off Southwest Missouri may not be the tick capital of the US, but then it is running a close second. I spent several years there and learned a lot about ticks .. the standard ones ..lone star tick, dog tick and deer tick came in their teeming thousands. When an engorged mama tick drops off and snuggles down into the damp soil around some grass roots, she will have between 2000 and 5000 fertilized eggs developing in her. When the hatchlings (now called seed ticks) come out, they climb the nearest grass stem and hang on, waiting for a meal to come by ---you, me, a deer, dog, rabbit, etc. Then, all of a sudden, the whole several thousand just --- transfer--to my shin, a reddish brown seething mass of -- let's call it 3000 --- ticklets. At this point, i pull out mu deticker tape (from off-the-wall street) and 3 or 4 minutes later, they're all folded up in the tape. hmmm.. this'll take two notes. Finish on the next.

mrg1954
7/5/2010 10:55:16 AM
I have a proactive suggestion. The next time you have a heavy rain or are able to get your soil very wet. Spray the lawn with beneficial nematodes. (The nematodes need wet soil for burrowing down.) Beneficial nematodes will not only kill the ticks, but also, fleas, grub worms, fire ants or any other horrible lawn and garden intruders. MRG

Clare_2
6/30/2010 10:37:48 AM
A good treatment for juvenile ticks -- if you've just been covered with them and want them to be dead quickly, since I don't think getting 50+ of them off with tape is realistic --- bathe with a fairly large amount of tea tree oil in the water. Enough of the oil to coat your entire body with a thin layer of the the stuff.

Tom Cox_2
5/28/2010 8:30:35 PM
Here's a tick removal trick I learned by accident. I was harassed into buying a spray bottle of eucalyptus oil by the occupant of a mall kiosk about 2 years ago. I put the stuff away and forgot it, until I tried dousing an attached tick with it in an effort to get it to let loose, or just to give it a bad time. It squirmed and backed out, and I was easily able to get rid of it. Since then, I have learned to douse any attached tick with enough oil to get it shiny-wet (takes very little), and rub the oil on and around the tick to get it in all the little bloodsucker's breathing orifices. In five or ten minutes, most of them either fall off or are much more easily removed. Maybe the oil has a neurological effect. It seems to work well for the trees as an insecticide/repellent, so I guess it should not be too surprising if it works on ticks. I don't care too much HOW it works, as long as I don't have to squeeze them (and stimulate the injection of more of their saliva), or risk pulling their bodies off their mouth parts, and leaving the latter in my skin. If they hate it, that's OK, too. Anything that makes it easier to send the disagreeable little critters to their new home in the septic tank is fine by me. So long,(blood)sucker!

mbw
5/24/2010 4:32:10 PM
another, but very rare tick born disease is ehrlichiosis. it is basically rocky mountain spotted fever without the rash (that is how our doctor explained it). it is hard to diagnose because it mimics severe flu symptoms, but will not get better without strong antibiotics. if you have symptoms that don't get better and you know you had a tick bite or were in a tick area, ask your doctor to run tests for this.








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