Active tick season is underway
A slow warmup to spring this year has been no deterrent to a growing pest threat, as ticks are already widespread and busy this season.
People taking to the woods and trails in an effort to get some outdoor exercise amid the coronavirus pandemic should remember to guard against ticks.
The tiny blood-sucking arachnids — which can carry the Lyme disease pathogen — appear to be out in force this spring, after a relatively mild winter.
“It seems to be an active season, but we aren’t getting as many calls, probably because more people are following the state guidelines about social distancing,” said Dan Durkee, senior health educator for Warren County. “We’ve heard from some of our vets that there have been a lot of dogs with ticks.”
Durkee said leaves and grass provide cover for ticks that then latch onto passing animals and humans.
“We’re getting into prime-time tick season,” Durkee said. “When the temperatures start averaging 40 or higher, that’s when ticks start looking to feed so they can move on in their life cycle. Leaves are out, grass is shooting up — that gets the ticks up and off the ground and actively looking to feed.
“Even though we’ve had a cold spring, cool weather is not a hindrance to ticks, and it sounds like it’s a pretty strong season already,” Durkee added.
Warmer temperatures this month will bring out more walkers and hikers, and many could be new to the activity with other activities curtailed by the coronavirus quarantine.
Durkee said ticks cling to anything 18-24 inches above the ground — tall grass, low shrubs and branches — and attach themselves to whatever is passing by.
“Ticks can’t jump or fly,” he said. “They crawl and they have to wait for a food source to pass by.”
People can take precautions in the woods and on the trails: wear light-colored clothing, high socks, long pants. Hikers should check themselves regularly both on the trail and again at home.
“People have to be vigilant,” Durkee said. “Create a barrier with your clothing. Reduce access to your skin as much as possible. It’s a good idea to do a tick check when you get home, grab a mirror and check hard-to-see places.”
Durkee said ticks like areas where the skin is thin — behind the ears, armpits, hairline. Removing a tick must be done carefully, using fine-point tweezers or a tick remover and pulling it straight up from the skin without crushing it.
Durkee said to particularly watch for small ticks in the second stage of their life cycle — nymphs — that are harder to see.
He also recommended using tick repellent, being careful to follow manufacturers’ instructions to maximize effectiveness. Insecticides like permethrin can be applied to hiking gear.
“If there are certain outer garments that you normally wear for outdoor activities, permethrin is an insecticide that kills ticks on contact — it’s made for clothing and gear like backpacks,” Durkee said. “You let it dry and it’s good for a few washes. It’s only for use on clothing and gear, not for skin use.”
The Lyme Action Network recommends taking the following steps to prevent getting bitten by ticks that can carry the bug that causes Lyme disease:
¯ Wear light-colored clothing so ticks can be spotted.
¯ Wear long sleeves and tuck pant legs into socks.
¯ Spray outdoor clothing with permethrin (available online), which repels ticks and kills them on contact. Do not spray on skin. Store sprayed clothes in plastic bags in the garage to reuse.
¯ Use insect repellent. Spray on outdoors and wash off when you come in.
¯ Repellents with at least 20 Percent DEET seem to be most effective. Natural repellents, such as rose geranium oil and citrus oil, seem to work but not as well as those with DEET.
¯ Do frequent tick checks on children, pets and adults.
¯ Throw clothes into dryer for 5 to 10 minutes after coming indoors. Heat kills ticks.