If you’ve spent any time outdoors, you have likely encountered ticks- tiny blood-sucking parasites that survive by attaching to a host (humans and animals). They are prevalent in the southeastern United States, including Tennessee, from April through September, though they can remain active through winter.
Most tick bites are harmless and don’t require medical attention, but some ticks are infected with diseases that can be transferred to humans and animals. And some of these illnesses can cause severe symptoms, even death.
It is essential to stay aware of tick environments and habits to limit your risk and equally important to know how to remove a tick and aftercare for a bite.
Where do ticks live?
Ticks prefer warm, moist, shady environments and are most often encountered outside (before being carried inside by the chosen host). Here are areas you may find ticks:
- your yard- especially if unfenced, with tall grass, nearby wooded areas, and shady spots
- wood piles
- leaf piles
- hiking trails
- stone benches and walls
- areas with heavy wildlife traffic- deer, birds, racoons, etc.
Ticks are typically passive hunters. They don’t chase after their host, they wait on blades of grass, shrubs, logs, until they have an opportunity to latch onto passing clothes, fur or hair. Once the tick has transferred to the host’s body they are able to climb or crawl to exposed skin to attach.
Around your home:
- limit access to wildlife with a fence around your yard- this prevents animal hosts from entering the area and bringing ticks with them
- tidy up- remove piles of leaves, trash, and unused items, and keep grass trimmed short
- use gravel or wood chips to create a 3-foot barrier between your space and brush, unkempt wooded areas, and wild vegetation
- spray clothing and shoes with permethrin before going out. This needs to be done in advance and in a ventilated area. Read the directions. Do not spray on clothes while you’re wearing them.
- tuck in your shirt, and tuck pants into your socks
- avoid brushing against grass and shrubs- keep to the center of walking trails
- use DEET repellent on your skin
- once you return indoors it’s important to check yourself, your children, and your pets for ticks. Pay special attention to the hair and hairline, armpits, between the legs, behind the ears, and where clothing bands or straps rest against your skin (waistband, bra straps).
- remove clothing worn outside and launder at once. Live ticks can survive for days left on clothing on the floor, or your hamper, and can find and attach to you later.
As earlier, ticks are prevalent in Tennessee. And despite efforts to avoid the little buggers, it is likely you will find a tick on yourself, a family member, or pet at some point. Don’t panic. If the tick is small, flat, crawling, and easy to remove, it can be easily removed and disposed of. If you find an attached tick:
- use fine tweezers to grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible and pull it straight out without jerking or twisting. If the mouth parts of the tick stay in your skin and cannot be easily removed, leave them. I know, gross. Clean the bite and your hands with soap and water.
- do not remove the tick with your fingers without a barrier- if tweezers are not available use fabric or tissue as a barrier to prevent the spread of disease.
- the CDC recommends against home remedies that encourage ticks to release on their own- like smothering in petroleum jelly or nail polish or applying heat- it is most important to remove the tick quickly.
- the tick can be saved in a zippered plastic bag, preserved in rubbing alcohol or flushed down the toilet. Do not crush it with your fingers.
- Monitor for symptoms of illness and see your doctor ASAP if you develop flu like symptoms, rash or fever in the days or weeks after a tick bite.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Tennessee Department of Health are reliable information sources regarding tick-borne illnesses, prevalence, prevention, and treatment. Please look over these sites and contact your provider for specific questions and concerns.