Ticks: The Vampires You Should Be Concerned About

If I haven't freaked you out with my last article about Poison Ivy, let me try again.  Just kidding...maybe.  First, tick bites can be prevented with a little information, which I will give you below.  Don't let this, or any other outdoor risk, scare you or your kids from getting outside.  Risk is an issue I love to talk about in my courses.  The riskiest thing you and your child do every day is getting inside a car.  Getting outside and injured, or getting a tick is low on that spectrum.  I have stories later on...

This is a tick.  Small aren't they.

Ticks. Nature's little vampires.  Ticks are in the Arachnid group and are easily identified as being small and flat with 8 legs. For the purpose of this blog, I will not be going into identification.  It doesn't matter which tick you have on you, that's the tick you don't want on you.

Tick Myths

  • Ticks find you by smelling your blood
    • False - They sense the carbon dioxide from you breathing, your heat and movement.

  • You can feel a tick when it bites you
    • Really...if that was the case, then there would be no tick-borne disease in humans.  They use secretions to "numb" the site of the bite. There is only a small fraction of people that can actually feel them bite. Very small.

  • Ticks jump out of trees
    • They can't jump.  They are found in tall grass and brush.  If you find one on your shoulder, it's because it crawled that far up your body. Just like your ex- literally a "Stage 5 Clinger".

  • Remove ticks by burning them
    • Not a good idea, this could cause more problems, including causing infection.

  • Ticks burrow into your skin
    • No, that's chiggers, ticks only insert their mouthparts.  Think mosquito on steroids.

  • I only have to worry about ticks in the Spring and Summer.
    • I wish.  Though depending on temperature, some ticks do go dormant in the cold month, but there are a few species (Adult Deer Ticks) that are still active through winter.

How To Avoid Ticks

The easy answer to this is DEET (20% +) or Lemon Eucalyptus Oil (but it must contain OLE "oil of eucalyptus" and/or PME).  Spray the hell out of your socks, shoes, pants legs, waistline, and shirt.  It also helps tremendously to tuck your pants into your socks and shirt into your pants.  Not fashionable I know, but it works.  This trick has saved from numerous critters, including chiggers.  If you are concerned about bathing in DEET, I get it.  For me, I'd rather risk the DEET than the disease from a tick.  But you have another alternative in the Lemon Eucalyptus Oil, however, you must reapply frequently! Don't forget!

The other way to avoid ticks is to avoid their habitat.  Well, the whole of the outdoors is their habitat and you can get a tick anywhere.  However, the most likely place is tall grass.  They like to hang out at the tips of vegetation and crawl/grab/fall on organisms as they pass.  Ticks cannot jump nor can they fly, so you have to really brush against them for them to attach to your clothing.  If you wear light-colored clothing, and spot check frequently, you have a greater chance of seeing them before they get to you.

And just because an area was tick free last week, does not mean it is this week.  Tick outbreaks are really interesting as they are like land mines.  You could be hanging out with a friend hiking and be two feet away from one another and they end up with ticks everywhere and you don't have any.  When ticks hatch from their eggs, they don't move very much from their original location, so you end up with many ticks in a confined area.

Sweet Baby Jesus, I Found A Tick On Me

You should always do a tick check on yourself. Look everywhere and I mean everywhere. It's better if someone else can assist you because they can see places you can't.  And if you are tick free...well you and your partner are more than likely naked already...you know....celebrate.  Anyway, what if you find a tick. BURN IT, MURDER IT!  Actually, no don't do that.  Never try to burn it, squeeze it, pour something weird on it, etc.  Use Tweezers or a Tick Key to remove the tick.  With tweezers, grab the tick as close to the head as you can and pull straight out.  Don't twist.  Make sure you are not squeezing the abdomen, the round back part, as there is a possibility you could squeeze some yucky tick juice into yourself.

Remove the tick as soon as possible.  Leaving the tick in until it dies or falls off is a really bad idea.  Current research has shown that Lyme disease, or any other, can be transmitted within hours of the initial bite.

Note: Peppermint oil.
Ok, I have heard of people pouring peppermint oil on a tick and it detaches.  These are more than likely ticks that have just attached. Once ticks are on you for a bit, they are actually kinda cemented into your skin due to the secretions of the tick.  This is why it hurts to pull a tick out.

Ticks and Disease

Most ticks do not carry any disease, so the odds are in your favor.  There are many different species of ticks, and with each species, they can only transmit certain diseases to humans.  Most of these diseases are bacterial with a few viral thrown in for good measure.  The most notable of course is Lyme disease.  Lyme accounts for roughly 70% of vector-borne disease, while all vector-borne is 95% from ticks.  Mosquito-borne is only about 6%.  Bet that DEET is looking pretty good right now.

CDC 2014

CDC: Reported Cases of Lyme Disease in 2015

At the very least, you should place the tick in a Ziploc bag, along with some information about where you were when you got the tick, and the date. Toss that bad boy in the freezer and wait.  If you begin to have symptoms in the next month, you have the tick which can be identified and tested. There are many different diseases, many cause a rash and fever.  Check out the CDC website for more specific symptoms.

Characteristic "Bullseye" rash of Lyme disease.
Courtesy of the University of Iowa.

Important: Just because a distribution map doesn't show the disease in your area, does not mean that it is not there!  Any scientist/doctor will tell you that these are based on historical data and that data changes, just as the ecosystems and landscape changes.

My advice goes one step further.  Here in Texas, and many other states, you can send in your live tick and they will test it.  This is often a free service from your state's health department.  They can then give you exactly what species of tick it was and what, if any, disease it carried.  This is important for two reasons:

  1. It's cheaper to test the tick than you.
  2. There is a possibility that a tick is carrying one than one infectious agent. and
  3. These are important data sets that you are contributing towards.  Some keywords for your search to submit a tick "State", "Health Department", and "Tick" or "Zoonosis".

I have had many ticks, and I've just recently started submitting them to the state for testing.  So far nothing has come back other than a few "hhmmm, that's interesting" comments.  I've had ticks that have had some bacterial relatives to the more nasty diseases, but no illness so far.  With that being said, the CDC estimates there are many cases of Lyme disease not being reported and many going undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. There are also many other diseases from ticks, some nasty, others not too bad.  The Powassan virus is one to be concerned about, as it can be fatal, or cause severe brain damage....and there is no treatment.

 It would be best to err on the side of caution and be stringent in your tick prevention methods.  And if you do get a tick, be sure to submit it for testing.

If in Texas, This is the link for submitting your tick for testing.

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True Facts About Lyme Disease


CDC Lyme Disease

Youtube: CDC Emerging Tickborne Disease