It’s That Time Again – Tick Season!

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I removed the first tick of the season off my shoulder yesterday – Lone Star Tick. Yes, I’m afraid it’s that time again. Ticks are pests that we will have to live with. TickTicks are most active in the spring, summer, and fall. Some species are even active in the winter! Ticks are related to spiders and mites – they have eight legs. It’s important to be aware of how to prevent tick bites and how to properly remove them when we do get bit.

Ticks reside in leaf litter, foundation cracks, and other secluded places until they need a blood meal. They then move to tall grass or shrubs where the humidity is elevated before they attach themselves to the next source of a blood meal. The tick searches for a place on the skin to attach – so covering up that skin is very helpful!. The use of repellents can be helpful as well. Know that some products work against mosquitoes and ticks, but while others work to repel mosquitos, they may not repel ticks. The EPA has a search tool to help you find the repellent that is right for you. Find the Repellent That’s Right for You

Permethrin products containing 0.5% permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing, and camping gear and remain protective through several washings.

Tick mouthparts are barbed in order to aid with attachment (this also makes it difficult for removal!). Also, a glue-like substance is exuded to help the mouthparts stay put. Don’t panic if you find a tick on you. The key is to remove the tick as soon as possible, as duration of the attachment and feeding is important.

While there are several tick removal devices you can purchase,  a regular set of fine-tipped tweezers work very well. Use these to grasp the tick as close to your skin’s surface as possible, then pull upward with steady, even pressure without twisting so the mouthparts don’t break off. After removing it, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Don’t squash a tick with your fingers to prevent any exposure to possible pathogens inside the tick. 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.

There are four ticks that are found in North Carolina: the American dog tick, the brown dog tick, the lone star tick, and the black-legged tick (formally known as the deer tick). The American dog tick is the primary carrier for RMsf and possibly ehrlichioses. Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMsf) is the most common tick disease in North Carolina. This tick is active in the spring, summer, and fall. This species does not transmit Lyme disease.

The lone star tick is thought to be the primary carrier of ehrlichioses. While adult lone star ticks are abundant in the spring and summer, their babies are hatched in the fall. These baby ticks (larvae) are commonly referred to as “seed ticks are commonly found in Lee County, and are abundant in the fall. After working in the yard, an unlucky victim may be covered with hundreds of these tiny parasites at one time.

The black-legged tick is the primary carrier of Lyme disease. While Lyme disease is the least common in North Carolina it has received much media attention and is very common in the northeastern United States. Ehrlichioses is the least known but causes a severe illness, but is rarely fatal. RMsf can be fatal and Lyme disease patients can suffer greatly. All three are bacterial diseases and can be treated with antibiotics. It is important to catch them early. The symptoms for these diseases are similar. If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor. Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred. For more information on ticks, see Ticks and  Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases.

Minda Daughtry is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.