How to avoid and remove ticks

It’s summertime here in New England which means it’s also tick season.  According to the Center for Disease Control, it’s difficult to predict exactly how bad this tick season will be, but many experts believe that the warm winter we just had will result in a heavier population of ticks this year.

“Ticks are out, and while we want to encourage people to enjoy the outdoors, we also want to encourage people to take steps to prevent themselves, family members, and pets from being bitten by ticks,” said Dr. Benjamin Chan, NH State Epidemiologist in a New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services press release. “Preventing tick bites is the best way to avoid getting sick from any number of diseases that ticks can carry.”

While I’ve been fortunate enough to not see any ticks yet this summer (knock on wood), I’ve heard from several people, including my neighbors, that they’ve already removed several ticks from themselves or their pets. Because of this potential epidemic, I wanted to take the time to give you some information about how to avoid getting ticks and how to remove them if you find one.

Why are Ticks So Bad?

Ticks pose a severe risk for several serious diseases, the most common being Lyme disease, which is transmitted via infected Blacklegged ticks. Lyme disease is most heavily concentrated in the North East, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest. The CDC says 95 percent of all Lyme disease cases occur in the following 14 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

How can I spot Lyme disease?

Symptoms for Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue, and rashes on the skin. If left untreated, the Lyme disease can spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system. If you believe you, or someone you know, is affected by Lyme disease, you should consult your primary care physician immediately and let them know you’ve been bitten by a tick, when your bitten, and where.

Is Lyme disease the only thing I need to worry about?

Simply put, no. Other diseases, while less common, include Rocky Mountain spotted feveranaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, Powassan virus, and babesiosis. Each of these diseases are usually confined to specific geographic locations, they can still pose a significant health risk.

How to prevent tick bites

Learning how to avoid being bitten by ticks is the best defense for protecting yourself and your family this summer. These are the tips the CDC recommends for preventing tick bites:

  • Avoid areas with high grass and leaf litter and walk in the center of trails when hiking.
  • Use repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours.
  • Use products that contain permethrin to treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents or look for clothing pre-treated with permethrin.
  • Treat dogs for ticks. Dogs are very susceptible to tick bites and to some tickborne diseases. They may also bring ticks into your home. Tick collars, sprays, shampoos, or monthly “top spot” medications help protect against ticks.
  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find crawling ticks before they bite you.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon returning from tick-infested areas. Parents should help children check thoroughly for ticks. Remove any ticks right away.
  • Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed.

How to remove ticks

If you find that you’ve been bitten by a tick, it’s best to remove the tick immediately. It’s important to do this properly or else your risk infecting the bite worse.

  1. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
  4. Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.

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