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Man hiking along trail in forest on foggy morning

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.—Trips through the creek, treks up a mountainside and excursions in the woods are fun summer pastimes. Spending time outdoors is part of the fun of summertime. However, outdoor pests, such as ticks, can put a damper on outdoor activities.

Ticks are abundant and aggressive in many places across the country. They can transmit diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and alpha-gal (red meat) allergy. These diseases can pose serious health risks to humans. To avoid illness, it is essential to take proactive steps to limit exposure, quickly identify disease symptoms and seek medical help if needed.

Finding a Host

Dr. Beau Brodbeck, an Alabama Extension forestry, wildlife and natural resources regional agent, said ticks have several ways of finding and attaching to hosts.

“Ticks find their hosts by sensing breath, odor, heat, vibrations or shadows,” Brodbeck said. “They also find hosts by waiting or ‘questing’ on the tips of grasses and shrubs along a well-used path.”

According to Brodbeck, game trails, especially deer trails, are prime locations for ticks.

“Ticks cannot fly or jump, but when hosts brush past them, ticks can quickly climb onto clothing or fur,” Brodbeck said. “Once on the body, ticks find a preferred spot and start feeding. It is during feeding that a tick can transmit illnesses to the host.”

Pets not treated with effective tick control products are at risk of being bitten and possibly becoming sick. Pets can also bring ticks into the home and put humans at higher risk. It is important to remember that ticks are active when temperatures are above freezing. Personal protective measures and effective tick control for pets are needed year-round to prevent illness.

Protecting Yourself

Those who will be in an environment where ticks are common should take measures to protect themselves. The following tips can decrease the chances of becoming a host to these pests.

  • Wear light-colored clothing, long pants and long-sleeved shirts
  • Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin
  • Use repellents with 20 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing
  • Tuck shirt into pants and pants into socks or boots
  • Wear protective gloves when handling dead animals
  • Put long hair in a bun or pull up into a hat
  • Don’t sit on rotten logs or stumps
  • Wear closed-toe shoes
  • Walk in the center of the trail

Checking For and Removing Ticks

Emily Merritt, a former research associate in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences at Auburn University, said a thorough tick check after outdoor activity is crucial.

“Immediately after coming in from outdoor activity, check yourself, other family members and pets for ticks over the entire body,” Merritt said. “Closely examine the hair and scalp, in and around ears, under the arms, inside the belly button, under the waistband, groin area, inside of thighs, around the knees and ankles and in between fingers and toes.”

A tick on skin. ticks.

Conduct a full body check in the shower using a mirror. Check the skin for any bumps or scabs that might indicate a tick, especially on the scalp. If a bump or scab is found, do not squeeze or press it—check it. Do this check for several days following potential exposure. Make it part of the daily routine after being outside. Also carefully examine clothing and gear because ticks can ride into homes and attach later. To kill ticks that may not be visible, tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for 30 minutes.

If an attached tick is found, remove it as soon as possible. Properly remove the tick with tweezers by grasping it as close to the skin as possible and pulling upward on its mouthparts with a steady, even tug. After a tick is removed, wash and disinfect the tweezers, hands and the area on the skin where the tick was attached. Dispose of the tick by submersing it in rubbing alcohol, wrapping it tightly in tape and throwing it away or flushing it down the toilet.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States, with approximately 300,000 cases reported per year. Symptoms of Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Ehrlichiosis usually appear within days or weeks after being bitten by an infected tick. Symptoms may resemble the flu and include fever, headache, chills, stiff neck, fatigue, nausea, mental fogginess, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches and joint pain.

Merritt said people should see a doctor if they are bitten by a tick and have these symptoms.

A telltale sign of Lyme disease is an expanding red skin rash anywhere on the body called erythema migraines. This rash may have a central clearing and take on the appearance of a bull’s eye, but not always.

More Information

More information is available in the Extension publication Ticks & Tick-borne Illnesses, ANR-2315. For further information on ticks and tick-borne illnesses, visit www.aces.edu or contact your county Extension office.

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