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A person's finger holder a tick that they found on their white dog when they were checking it for ticks.

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — Southerners are no strangers to ticks and tick habitats. The hot, humid Alabama summers are ideal for tick survival. It is important to understand the disease threats posed by ticks and educate yourself to avoid a tick bite or tick-borne illness. Alabama Cooperative Extension System Entomologist, Xing Ping Hu, said she is utilizing the National Pest Management Association’s tick awareness week (May 7-13) to spread the word.

“Ticks are the number two cause of vector-borne disease in the United States,” Hu said. “They are second only to mosquitoes.”

As individuals and families begin heading outside in the spring weather, tick-related disease numbers will increase.

Tick Characteristics

Ticks are parasitic arachnids that feed on the blood of humans and other animals. Hu said they do not fall from trees on to people; instead, they are “the vampire in the grass.”

“Ticks do not climb high, but generally climb to the height of host animals,” she said. “They stay close to the ground to find mice and other rodents and in bushes or tall grasses for deer and other mammals.”

Ticks wait on the top of grasses and plants, raise their front legs to sense air movement and latch on when a host brushes past. Once the they hitch a ride, they look for an appealing spot on the host to bite. Hu said ticks are found almost everywhere—including the backyard.

“Ticks love tall grass and cool, damp areas,” she said. “Always be sure to check yourself and your pets for ticks after spending time outside. Unlike stinging wasps and ants, tick bites often go unnoticed because they do not hurt or itch when the bite occurs.”

Wearing protective clothing is a good way to avoid ticks and prevent a tick-borne disease. Insect repellent also deters this pest.

After a Tick Bite

It is important to remove the tick as soon as possible to prevent disease. Hu said a pair of fine-tipped tweezers is a good tool to have on hand to remove a tick.

“Never attempt to remove a tick with nail polish, a knife or petroleum jelly,” Hu said. “The removal must be thorough and should not leave any remaining parts. Because they can carry a variety of diseases that make people and pets sick, clean the area around the bite thoroughly.”

Hu recommends saving the tick in the event of infection. Save the tick in a plastic bag and take it to the physician for identification if necessary.

More Information

Learn more about ticks by following the National Pest Management Association on social media (@PestWorld) throughout the week of May 7. Additional information about ticks and tick-borne diseases is available in Hu’s Extension Brief, Watch Out for Ticks; Treat them Right, available at www.aces.edu.