During spring, summer, and fall, a lot of us get outdoors and enjoy time in the woods, parks, and backyards. It’s also the part of the year when ticks are more active: ticks can be found almost any time of year, but they prefer warmer weather.
Ticks carry some nasty illnesses, such as Lyme disease and anaplasmosis, and they pass those illnesses on to people or other animals by biting them. Luckily, there are lots of things you can do to avoid being bitten by ticks!
Here are six tips for preventing tick-borne illnesses so you can enjoy the outdoors and reduce your risk:
1) Know where ticks hang out.
More likely to have ticks: Tall grasses and bushes, where ticks wait to grab onto people and animals walking by. Ticks especially like the edges of woods and wooded areas. Shady yards can also be tick habitat.
Less likely to have ticks: consistently sunny spots with short grass, like a recently mowed lawn or park area.
When in in natural areas, staying on a trail – away from tall grasses and other plants at the edge – reduces the likelihood that a tick will be able to crawl onto you.
2) What to wear to avoid tick bites.
When going anywhere outdoors that might have ticks:
- Lighter colored clothing makes it easier to spot ticks before they attach to skin.
- Yes, it’s hot, but long pants and long sleeves provide the best protection.
- Consider treating clothes you like to wear outdoors with Permethrin (available here from REI) or buy pretreated clothing. Permethrin does not harm most fabrics and is odorless and nontoxic to humans once it dries. It’s a great way to be protected from ticks, mosquitos, and other biting insects without spraying anything directly on your skin or on kids. Check out this minute-long video about how to use Permethrin safely.
- Some people are excited about these anti-tick gaiters with repellent and similar products.
When in the woods, tall grass, or other area ticks might particularly like:
- Dress like a nerd! Ticks crawl up from plants near the ground, so if you tuck your pants into your socks, they can’t crawl up inside your pants.
- To kill ticks that may be on clothes, blankets, and towels that you brought with you, put them directly in the dryer on high heat for at least 10 minutes. No dryer? Tie up items tightly in a plastic bag and hang it up until you can dry the items or heat them up in a very hot car.
- Check backpacks and other gear that a tick might latch onto.
3) Learn to recognize different types of ticks.
This time of year, the ticks to look out for are the nymphs (smaller, immature form) of the black legged tick, also known as the deer tick. Only black legged ticks carry Lyme, and the nymphs are tiny: about the size of a poppy seed! By fall, black legged ticks grow to about the size of a sesame seed.
Dog ticks, which are about the size of a small watermelon seed, are also common in our area, but they are less likely to carry disease. Lone Star ticks are not common in our area – they are about the same size as a dog tick.
Want help identifying a tick?
- The free Tick Spotters service through the University of Rhode Island offers tick identification. Send in a photo of a tick and they will respond within about 24 hours!
4) Make tick checks part of your everyday routine.
- It takes about 24 hours after a tick is attached for it to transmit Lyme and most other diseases, so a daily tick check is a great prevention measure.
- When leaving an area that could have ticks, look on your clothes and exposed parts of your body. Check kids and pets thoroughly too.
- When you are in a place where you can take off your clothes, check your whole body, including in and around ears, head and neck, under arms, around the waist, belly button, between the legs, and the backs of your knees.
Click here and scroll down for CDC tick check advice.
Click here for CDC recommendations for avoiding and dealing with ticks on pets:
5) Know how to remove a tick.
- Use fine pointed tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the head as possible and pull it straight out.
- If you can’t easily remove the head of the tick, but the body is not attached, don’t mess around with it further. Poking too much can spread bacteria, and once the body has been removed, the head alone can’t add to your risk of Lyme or other illnesses.
- Wipe the area with alcohol or wash with soap and water.
- If you would like help, you can also call your doctor’s office or an urgent care facility for advice or to see if they can remove it for you the same day.
6) Know what to look for & when to call your healthcare provider.
Many people who get Lyme disease have the classic bullseye rash, but in some cases they do not. They may also experience flu-like symptoms. If you know you may have been exposed to ticks and notice symptoms, call your healthcare provider. Early treatment is important. Here is more information about symptoms of Lyme from the CDC. Anaplasmosis is another tickborne illness that is now common among ticks in the local area. Learn more about it here.
Plus: CDC guidance on how to protect pets, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Nontoxic Ways to Protect Your Pet, and advice from the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Once you are used to keeping these tips in mind, they become habits and don’t feel like a big deal. We hope you get outdoors this summer and enjoy our beautiful local area!
Many thanks to the FRCOG staff members who provided additional info for this article!