With all the buzz about apocalyptic swarms of cicadas this year (and the murder hornets of 2020), worrying about ticks can seem downright quaint. But you absolutely still should, as tick bites can carry pathogens, like Lyme disease, that are harmful to humans. And you may not even notice that you’ve been bitten.
A common misconception about ticks is that you can feel one bite you, says David Price, associate certified entomologist for Neighborly brand Mosquito Joe. “Ticks secrete an anesthetic compound that makes the animals they bite unaware they are being bitten—or fed on,” he explains. And while late spring and early summer are when ticks are most prevalent, “ticks can be active year-round including winter if the temperature is above freezing,” says Tom Mascari, PhD, an entomologist with SC Johnson.
“An effective tick control program requires mitigating questing, applying products to control the different life cycles, ensure your pet is treated and when outdoors where there is high grass, brush, shaded and wooded areas apply repellents and complete a tick check of your body,” says Price. If you do get bit by a tick and notice that’s it’s attached to your skin, don’t try to remove it with a lit match, petroleum jelly, or essential oils, says Price. “These methods will actually increase the potential to contract a disease,” he explains. “The best way is to use tweezers to grab the head close to the skin and lift straight upwards with steady even pressure. Parts of the tick’s head or mouth may remain, but they are unable to transmit any disease without the body.”
How to control ticks, according to entomologists
1. Use an insect repellant
“For ticks, I always recommend that my friends and family look for a personal insect repellent product like OFF! that either contains active ingredients DEET or picaridin,” Dr. Mascari says. “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection recommends using an insect repellent that contains 20 percent or more of DEET on exposed skin and/or clothing for protection.” If you want a DEET-free option, he recommends OFF! Defense Insect Repellent With Picaridin to protect against ticks. Regardless of the type of insect repellant you use, be sure to read—and follow!—the directions. “Each product, based on the amount of active, will provide an estimate on how long the protection may last,” he says.
OFF! Defense Insect Repellent With Picaridin — $12.00
OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent V With Deet — $8.00
2. Wear proper clothing
“When it comes to tick prevention, first and foremost you want to be aware of where ticks are commonly found including wooded areas, wood piles and in tall grass and weeds,” Dr. Mascari says. “If you’re going to be in an area that may have ticks, one of the simplest things you can do, in addition to using a personal insect repellent, is make sure you wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, tucking your pants into your socks to avoid any skin showing.” If you’re out hiking, he also recommends staying on the path to help avoid contact with ticks.
3. Keep up with yard maintenance
For those people who have actual lawn, Price recommends that you keep your lawn mowed on a regular basis as well as trimming tall grass, small trees, and bushes. “This will help in reducing something for the ticks to grasp while awaiting a host to walk by and latch onto,” he explains. Contrary to popular belief, ticks actually can’t jump, he says. “Instead they wait patiently crawling or latched to tall grass or brush sensing Carbon Dioxide and heat signatures to latch on to their host.”
4. Create a barrier between you and ticks
Again, ticks can’t jump, they just lie in wait to latch onto a host. To help reduce migration of ticks into your yard, Price says to put a three-foot band of mulch or gravel between your lawn and any woods-y area. “Use products that offer a blend of essential oils particularly containing geraniol and/or Virginian cedarwood oil targeting ticks at the wood line,” he says, for a little extra protection. “Many of these products have shown promise in either repelling or killing a portion of the population.”
5. Beware of animals that carry ticks
If you store any wood, be sure that it’s neatly stacked in a dry area, Price says, so that you don’t get a bunch of field mice. “Field mice and small rodents are a ticks first host and typically carry borrelia burgdorferi, which is the pathogen that carries Lyme disease,” he explains. And though deer may be cute and opossums may make great memes, alas they can be second hosts for ticks, helping them migrate into your yard, Price says. That’s why you should discourage animals like those two, raccoons, and foxes from entering. Also, be sure to treat your pets for ticks with a product like Frontline ($42).
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