Tick-borne illnesses are on the rise—but we’ve got your guide to keeping yourself and your pet safe this summer
Ticks are an increasing threat to humans and pets. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released that in 2017, state and local health departments reported a record number of cases of tick-borne diseases to the CDC. Whether ticks strike fear into your heart or picking them off is just another part of your daily routine, here’s what you need to know to keep you and your loved ones safe.
How to Prevent Tick Bites
Prevention is the best method with ticks. Research, preparation, and protection are your three weapons against ticks.
1. Research Your Destination
Know the ticks in your region. Ticks differ by region. While Texas has a number of ticks not commonly found throughout the West, California and coastal Oregon and Washington are prone to the Western blacklegged tick. Consult this CDC map to find out about the prevalent ticks in a given area, and be ready to identify them.
Research crowdsourced sites and ask locals. Narrow your scope to hone in on the local area of travel. Start with a Google search of keywords like “ticks” or “Lyme disease” and your destination, which may lead you to local community boards or newspapers. Read Yelp and AllTrails reviews of hiking sites, ask AirBnB hosts and nature guides, and read local newspapers for accounts of tick-borne diseases. A local can often tell you what hills and hiking trails are known for having lots of ticks. Certain pet-friendly hotels may even be prone to ticks, and Yelp reviews may reflect that.
Know the symptoms. Not only should you know about the pests present in your area, but also the illnesses prevalent there. First, consult this map to determine which ticks are prevalent in your destination. Then, determine the associated diseases with those particular ticks. Lyme disease is far from the only disease spread by ticks; in the West, we have the American dog tick, the lone star tick, the Western blacklegged tick, the Rocky Mountain tick, and the brown dog tick, each of which can carry assorted diseases. Lastly, read about each disease and its symptoms on this CDC list of tick-borne diseases.
2. Curate Your Walk or Your Yard
Avoid greenery. Blacklegged ticks, the primary transmitters of Lyme disease, lie in wait in fields, attaching themselves to you when you brush greenery. Avoid fields with tall brushes and grasses, or stick to the center of trails.
Remove plants. In your garden, remove plants that attract deer, lessening the chance of the animals attracting ticks to your yard.
3. Protect Yourself from Ticks Before They Bite
Any exposed flesh is fair game to these biters. Wear long, light-colored, insect-repelling pants, shirts, socks, and hats, where you’ll easily spot these hitchhikers. Apply tick repellent (Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellentsExternal containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone) to your body and face. Be extra careful to follow EPA precautions for children (use this search tool if you’re unsure which repellent to pick) and consult with your vet for the best tick repellent for your specific type of pet. Tie long hair back.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Checking for Ticks
The diagrams above and below highlights problem areas to be sure to check. Here’s a thorough checklist:
- Immediately after exposure to the outdoors, remove all clothing from yourself and your pets and examine them for ticks. Have a phone or computer with you to attempt to identify specific types of ticks.
- Place all clothing, including hats and socks, into the dryer on high heat for a minimum of six minutes.
- Fully check your pets every day. The CDC recommends using gentle pressure to run your fingers through their fur, feeling for small bumps. Examine in and around the ears, around the eyelids, under the collar, under the front and back legs, between the toes and around the tail.
- Have a partner do a full-body check with a pair of tweezers handy. Make sure to have the examiner look in your ears, hair and belly button. Ask the person to examine your entire back, groin, backs of the knees, and armpits.
- Enter the shower with a loofah and scrub your full body from head to toe.
How to Identify a Tick Bite
On yourself or your kids. Ticks are big enough to spot, even if they’re as tiny as poppy seeds. Always remember that a tick bite may not look like an arachnid, but instead like a small seed or mole poking out of your skin. Use a magnifying glass to identify the tick, or take a photo and zoom in. There may be a small red bump, or a rash, but there also may not be. Usually, you will see the body of the tick engorged in your skin, and it will grow over time, but you don’t want to wait that long. Ask a doctor if you’re unsure if your bite is a tick bite.
On your pets. Look around your pet’s head, neck, ears and feet. You will see the body of the tick, or you’ll feel a small bump on your pet’s skin. You need to reach beneath the fur. Brushing or shaving fur, or having it shaved at the vet, may even be necessary to appropriately check for or remove ticks.
What to Do If You Find a Tick Bite
Not all ticks spread diseases to us, but all ticks should be removed, either by yourself or a professional.
- First, snap a photo and attempt to identify the species of tick using the Tick Encounter Tick Identification Guide. Use a magnifying glass if necessary.
- Do not crush the tick, especially with a bare finger.
- After running your fingers through a pet’s fur to check for ticks, give pets a tick bath (being careful to wait the appropriate amount of time after preventive medication was applied). Consider a tick remover for your dog. Schedule a vet appointment if the tick is hard to completely remove or your dog exhibits any symptoms of illness.
- Remove the tick as soon as possible. The CDC says to use fine-tipped tweezers, clamping around the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Do not squeeze the tick. Pull straight upward with steady pressure, and don’t twist or jerk the tick. If any mouth-parts of the tick remain in your skin or your pet’s skin, remove them with tweezers. Thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. If you are not sending it in for analysis, dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.
- Join science’s fight to stop ticks! Consider reporting the tick via The Tick App or Tick Tracker.
- Obtain a tick report by sending the tick to this disease analysis service. After lab analysis, you’ll know exactly which diseases your tick carries.
- Monitor yourself and your pet for any potential symptoms, including but not limited to: fever, chills, aches and pains, or rashes. You can see some examples of Lyme disease rashes on page 37 of the 2018 Report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Tick-Borne Disease Working Group.