Warmer weather brings us so many things to look forward to! However, Mother Nature has a way of balancing out the good with the bad, and with the bad comes those pesky ticks. As with anything, prevention is the key. Arm yourself with these tips the next time you go out for a hike, or go camping in heavily wooded areas.
Wear light colored clothing- this is not because ticks prefer black. Ticks do not have a style preference. Light colors should be worn so that if a tick lands on you, you will be more likely to spot its dark body in contrast to the light clothing.
If possible, wear long sleeves and pants with your pants tucked into your socks- you may look silly, but a few hours of looking silly is much better than a tick bite.
Keep long hair pulled back and use repellant sprays on skin and clothing- the best mixture for preventative care is to use at least 30% DEET on the skin and Permethrin 0.5% (a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide) on your clothes. Of course, as with most things, there are natural and herbal repellent alternatives. However, it is worth mentioning that these natural and herbal alternatives are less likely to deter ticks from walking across your skin to get to untreated areas.
When you return from a “shinrin yoku” or a rustic camping trip, throw your clothes in the dryer on high heat and perform a tick check on your body followed by a shower. Ticks like to go to areas around the head and neck so check behind the ears and in your hair. They also like to travel to dark, moist places such as underarms, groin, and behind the knees and elbows.
Don’t forget the dog! Check your pets, they too can suffer from diseases transmitted by ticks. Preventative care for dogs consists of topical or oral medication which can last months at a time.
If you still find a tick on you, remember this: many people think that once the tick is latched on they have been bitten and now may suffer from one of the numerous diseases ticks can pass on. This is false. First off, do not jump to conclusions. It takes a tick approximately 4-6 hours to penetrate through the skin to take your blood, and then the tick must be attached for longer than 24 hours to actually transmit disease. It is also important to remember that not all ticks carry disease and only deer ticks carry Lyme disease. There are 12-15 different species of ticks in Michigan with the most common being the black-legged or deer ticks and American dog ticks. (See illustrations below for tick identification and possible diseases they may carry).
To remove the tick make sure you have fine point tweezers nearby. This is the best method to safely remove a tick, all the other extreme methods of “kill it with fire” or covering with substances like Vaseline or perfume is not safe or effective. Grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible without squeezing the tick’s body, then pull it straight out. You may feel resistance from the tick because after all, it wants to be on your body. Be the boss of it without squeezing the body of the tick, you do not want what is inside the tick’s belly (i.e. potential disease) to be squeezed into your body. Once the tick is safely removed you can rest easy. If you need a little more reassurance to keep your mind at ease you can save the tick by placing it in a plastic bag or a jar of alcohol for testing. If it is to be tested for spirochetes, you must keep it alive in a jar with a blade of grass.
Note the images below for the different types of ticks that can be found and keep in mind, ticks are very, very small when they have not fed. An adult female can be as big as 2.7 mm. Images below are enlarged.
American Dog Tick (top left: male adult, top right: female adult, bottom left: larva, bottom right: nymph). Diseases associated with these ticks in Michigan are rare but can include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Tularemia.
The Black Legged Tick or Deer Tick (top left: adult male, top right: adult female, bottom left: larva, bottom right: nymph). Lyme Disease is the most common disease contracted from this tick in Michigan. Other diseases can include anaplasmosis, babesiosis, deer-tick virus, and ehrlichiosis.
The Lone Star Tick (top left: male adult, top right: female adult, bottom left: larva, bottom right: nymph) The lone star tick is known to cause ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Tularemia.
Woodchuck Tick or Wood Tick (top left: adult male, top right: adult female, bottom left: larva, bottom right: nymph). Potential carriers of Powassan encephalitis, which is on the rise this season.
Brown Dog Tick (top left: adult male, top right: adult female, bottom left: larva, bottom right: nymph). These ticks are occasionally found in Michigan and can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Canine babesiosis, and Canine ehrlichiosis.