AUBURN, Alabama — Ticks are abundant and aggressive in many places across the county. In recent years, research has raised concerns about the prevalence, misdiagnosis and emergence of tick-borne illnesses that pose serious health risks. To avoid illness, it is important to take proactive steps that limit exposure and enable you to quickly identify disease symptoms and seek medical help.
“Ticks find their hosts by sensing breath, odor, heat, vibrations or shadows,” said Beau Brodbeck, an Alabama Extension agent in forestry, wildlife and natural resources. “They also find hosts by waiting or questing on the tips of grasses and shrubs along a well-used path.
“Game trails, especially deer trails are prime locations. Ticks cannot fly or jump, but when hosts brush past them, ticks can quickly climb onto clothing or fur. Once on the body, ticks find a preferred spot and start feeding. It is during feeding that a tick can transmit illnesses to the host.”
Pets that are not treated with effective tick control products are at risk of being bitten and possibly becoming sick. They also can bring ticks into your home and put you at greater risk. An important thing to remember is that ticks are active when temperatures are above freezing. Personal protective measures and effective tick control for pets are needed year round to prevent illness in your family.
For illness prevention in pets, Brodbeck suggests using a brush to facilitate full body checks. Additionally, he suggests consulting your veterinarian about effective tick control products, such as oral medication, impregnated collars or topical treatments.
Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States, with approximately 300,000 cases reported per year. Symptoms of Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Ehrlichiosis usually appear within days or weeks after being bitten by an infected tick. Symptoms may resemble flu and include fever, headache, chills, stiff neck, fatigue, nausea, mental fogginess, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches and joint pain. Brodbeck says if you are bitten by a tick and have these symptoms, see a doctor. Learn more about ticks and tick-borne illnesses in this Alabama Extension fact sheet online at http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-2315/ANR-2315.pdf.
A telltale sign of Lyme disease is an expanding red skin rash anywhere on the body called erythema migranes. This rash may have a central clearing and take on the appearance of a “bull’s eye,” but not always.
Brodbeck advises, “Immediately after coming in from outdoor activity, check yourself, other family members and pets for ticks over the entire body. Closely examine hair and scalp, in and around ears, under the arms, inside belly button, under waistband, groin area, inside of thighs, around the knees and ankles, in between fingers and toes.“
Conduct a full body check in the shower using a mirror. Check skin for any bumps or scabs that might indicate a tick, especially on the scalp. If you feel a bump or scab, do not squeeze or press it, but check it. You should do this check for several days following potential exposure. Make it part of your daily routine after being outside. Also, carefully examine clothing and gear because ticks can ride into your home and attach later. It is advisable to tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for 30 minutes to kill ticks you didn’t find.
Remove ticks as soon as possible
If you find an attached tick, remove it as soon as possible. Properly remove the tick with tweezers by grasping it as close to your skin as you can get and pulling upward with a steady, even tug. After a tick is removed, wash and disinfect the tweezers, your hands and the area on the skin where the tick was attached. Dispose of the tick by submersing it in rubbing alcohol, wrapping it tightly in tape and throwing it away or flushing it down the toilet.
Create a tick-safe zone in your landscape
The Center for Disease Control suggests the following things you can do to create a tick-safe zone in your landscape
- Clear tall grasses and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns
- Place a 3-foot wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas and around patios and play equipment. This will restrict tick migration into recreational area.
- Mow the lawn frequently and keep leaves raked.
- Stack wood neatly and in a dry area
- Keep playground equipment, decks and patios away from yard edges and trees. Place them in a sunny location, if possible.
- Remove any old furniture, mattresses or trash from the yard that may give ticks a place to hide.
- Use acaricides (tick pesticides) to reduce the number of ticks in treated areas of your yard.
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