I love springtime and the outdoors. The aroma of blooming flowers, the emerging seedling breaking through garden soil for its first breath, bees vigorously working the fresh flowers, and birds singing happily in the trees stands in stark contrast from the long, seemingly endless winter. The renewal of life after a cold, dead winter is extremely refreshing. If you too love spring and the outdoors you also understand that seeds sprouting, colorful foliage flowering, trees blossoming are not the only signs of life reawakening. Dark, long winter days are finally gone and the warmer days of spring are here. The plants are not the only forms of life taking full advantage of the warm days. The pest world also awakes! Like most families, spring is a time to play outdoors, take a nature hike, walk the dog, and enjoy a weekend camping or simply a time to tend your garden. Under the leaves that remain from last fall tucked tightly beneath your bushes, shrubs, vegetation or newly planted ornamentals lays a real threat. This threat is ticks! As a concerned father of four, I take this threat seriously because I know that ticks share the same outdoor environment.
Tick control should occupy all our minds this spring and summer. Tick bites are not fun and can actually pose serious, life threatening illness. I remember my first experience prompting attention to tick control and tick prevention after enjoying a fun spring activity. My family returned from a camping trip one year and my brother had a large tick, engorged with blood, clinging to his neck. Luckily, our father who is a doctor safely removed the tick soon after it was discovered and fortunately my brother did not suffer any lasting effects that are commonly associated with ticks. Diseases many are aware of for example, include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick-borne relapsing fever just to name a few. Tick control is important, not only to avoid the obvious pain associated with a tick embedding it’s mouthparts in your skin to feed on blood but also the inherent possibility of contracting one of at least ten different diseases ticks may transmit to humans. Although often associated with dense, wooded areas, you do not have to experience a mountain setting to encounter a tick problem. Ticks can thrive in your own yard.
How do you prevent ticks? Tick control includes a comprehensive approach that is easily employed by any person. First, you have to know how you can attract a tick in order to help prevent tick bites. Ticks are very opportunistic. Ticks can wait for many months without a blood meal before becoming too stressed and die. Ticks will hide under a pile of leaves, on plant stems, the ends of leafs or on a blade of grass at the perfect height, up to three feet to increase their chances of finding their next host. They cling to the next passer by who simply brushes by the tick infested plant. One aspect is true of all ticks—they all seem hungry for their next blood meal. One helpful tip is to walk in the center of trails if possible to avoid the overhanging vegetation they could easily cling to.
Next, I always pack a useful repellent with the active ingredient DEET. Another natural tick control product I recommend is Permethrin. You can use permethrin on socks; clothing, camping gear and the active ingredient, useful for tick control, will actually remain active through a few washings. It’s worth the investment. This is an important product in my tick control arsenal. PLEASE READ THE LABEL! I encourage parents to apply the tick control products labeled for such use to their children. Avoid applying the product to your children’s hands, eyes and mouth. If your kids are like mine, their habits are at least predictable when placing sunscreen, lotion or other skin product—their hands will eventually be touching their face, be in their mouth or rubbing their eyes. You can prevent avoidable pain and ticks by following the product’s label. Again, DEET and Permethrin are excellent products for tick control. When applying the product, select likely areas ticks will attach themselves to, for example, sock lines, neck area, and wrist—areas of exposure. I find it difficult to always wear long sleeved shirts, long pants and socks when enjoying outdoor activities; however, this is another helpful, preventative measure for reducing an unfortunate tick encounter.
My next example may sound a bit funny but it is very important advice and one that I encourage all my family members to follow—PERFORM DAILY TICK CHECKS. If you are like me, and love the outdoors, including your own yard and frequent it often take the time to conduct full body tick checks. I purchased an inexpensive, telescoping mirror sold in most automotive shops to make these inspections thorough. The adolescent ticks, known as “seed ticks” can be quite small and difficult to spot without a mirror of some sort. Immediately remove any ticks you find. Check everywhere, yes I mean everywhere. My brother’s tick was located on his upper neck, behind the ear. The tick could have easily been in his belly button, between his legs, in his hair or even in his ear. He initially spotted the tick when he was in the shower, performing a full tick inspection–encouraged by our wise parents. I check my younger children for ticks, especially in their hair when we return from campouts or other activities that took place in tick infested environments. After you remove a tick safely, make sure you keep a close eye on the bite. If a rash develops or fever ensues please contact a physician. When we find ticks, we also remove all the clothing and wash them thoroughly. Place your clothes in the dryer, on the highest dryer setting for an hour. This easily kills all ticks.
Your companion animals are also likely hosts. Consult your veterinarian for tick control washes and products to help avoid an outside, tick control problem from becoming an inside, tick control issue. You do not want ticks roaming around your home. Tick collars and other specialty products will help your pets enjoy the joys of spring too!
Finally, I also maintain a tick free zone around my property. This is another way to manipulate the tick’s environment and help reduce the likelihood of encountering ticks. Our metal, swing set and monkey bars are placed away from the shrubs and trees that surround the yard. The toys are in a well-maintained, vegetation-free area of the yard. Weed control and vegetation management is a constant battle around my home but one that consistently discourages ticks. Homeowners can buy over the counter products labeled for tick control and thoroughly treat around their home and yard to reduce tick numbers. I rely on a professional, springtime application for tick control every year. The service is inexpensive, applied generously with equipment that clearly allows for complete and accurate coverage. I tried the handheld sprayer one year, and it was quite effective however time consuming. I would rather be out enjoying the yard and planting seeds in the garden with the kids. Follow this advice and you may avoid tick-borne relapsing fever and allow your family to catch the healthier, even contagious, “Spring Fever!”
Additional Tick Control Information
Preventative action against ticks may include providing children and pets with an area which has little plant life or overgrown foliage. Ticks may hide in these areas and wait for an unsuspecting host to pass by. It is also a good idea to remove leaves and overgrown bushes from yards, and by treating pets with a tick-repellent treatment to keep wandering pests at bay. Repellents can be purchased from vet offices or pet supply stores.
If ticks are found within the home, immediate actions must be taken. These tiny pests can populate at astonishing rates. They carry diseases harmful to humans and pets alike and can become increasingly difficult to remove once infestation has taken hold. There are a variety of chemical control agents available to control tick populations. Springtime applications are very useful and may be used to remove and prevent infestation. These repellents are applied in the spring, when tick populations increase, and are designed to kill and repel ticks. Tick tubes are effective for some tick infestations.
Deer are known to carry many ticks. In areas where humans reside close to deer habitat or in the case of hunters or workers within dense foliage areas, sprays and repellents can be applied to avoid contact with these pests. The removal of trees and bushes from boundary lines is also encouraged to reduce the chance of a deer coming close to homes in the countryside.
In the case of a bite, it is best to seek medical treatment. Ticks can produce nasty bites which may need minor treatment to prevent infection. Tick tweezers can be used to remove ticks lodged in a host. Also, due to their high risk of transmittable disease, medical consultation and testing may be necessary. If a pet has been bitten by a tick, tick-treatment should be applied followed by a visit to the vet. Pets found with ticks should be removed from common living areas to prevent further contamination.