Tips for Avoiding Ticks
The best way to avoid diseases like Lyme is to learn the risk of tick bites, and how to prevent and treat them.
It’s starting. We’re finding ticks on our skin and clothes. You, too?
Take a deep breath. Yes, ticks are a part of our world. And the best way to deal with them is to get informed, and take some simple precautions when you go outside.
We’ve collected sound information from reliable sources, but we’re certainly not an authority on ticks. We encourage you to check in with your healthcare provider or the Centers for Disease Control for more information about how to prevent and treat tick-borne diseases.
What are ticks?
Ticks are arachnids, more closely related to spiders than flies or mosquitos. They have four pairs of legs, no antennae, and they don’t fly or jump. Instead, they tend to hang out on blades of grass, shrubs, or other foliage, waiting for people and animals to come to them.
There are thousands of tick species around the world but in Maine, the most common are dog ticks (which do not carry disease) and deer ticks (which do). Our primary concern is the latter, and the Blacklegged tick in particular. Nymphs and adult females will bite anytime temperatures are above freezing, spring through fall.
Why are ticks a concern?
The Blacklegged tick can carry several debilitating (and, in rare cases, potentially life-threatening diseases), including Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, and Powassan Virus Disease. Visit the Centers for Disease Control’s website for more information about these and other tick-borne diseases.
What can I do to avoid being bitten by a tick?
These are key steps you can take to prevent tick bites:
- Wear closed-toed shoes and light-colored clothing; tuck pant legs into socks.
- Use a tick repellent such as DEET (20% or lower is recommended) or permethrin on clothing.
- After being outside, do a full-body tick check. Parents should carefully check children, pets, and gear. (Keep in mind that ticks often attach in body folds, behind ears and in hair.)
- To protect pets, consult your veterinarian about tick repellents, acaricides, and Lyme vaccines.
- Shower and wash clothes as soon as possible (ticks can’t survive in a hot drying machine).
Visit the Maine Medical Center Research Institute Vector-borne Disease Laboratory for more information.
What should I do if I find an attached tick?
Experts recommend using a tick spoon or tweezers to remove a tick. It’s best to gently pull out the tick using a slow and steady upward motion, avoiding twisting or squeezing. The Maine Center for Disease Control offers specific instructions to follow.
If you wish to save the tick and have it tested, put it in alcohol and place it in a sealed bag or container. Otherwise wrap it tightly in tape or flush it down the toilet.
After removing the tick, wash your hands and the bite site using warm water, rubbing alcohol or an iodine scrub. Carefully monitor the bite site and see a medical professional if a rash develops.
Not all tick bites mean big trouble
It’s important to remember: the majority of tick bites will not cause disease. Also, when it comes to Lyme disease, few people are infected within 36 hours of being bit. If caught early, oral antibiotics have proven to be effective treatments for Lyme disease and anaplasmosis. Early and appropriate treatment is key.
If you know you have been bitten by a tick, or if you suspect you may have been, carefully monitor yourself—and particularly the bite site—for symptoms (see more on this below). While each disease has its own unique set of symptoms, many trigger fever, headache, fatigue, muscle ache, and, often in the case of Lyme disease, a rash.
When should I seek medical help?
The Mayo Clinic recommends visiting your doctor if:
- You think you’ve been bitten by a deer tick.
- You’re unable to completely remove the tick.
- A rash develops. It’s normal for a small red bump to appear at the site of the tick bite, but if it develops into a larger rash it may indicate Lyme disease.
- If you experience fever, chills, fatigue, muscle and joint point, a headache and/or other flu-like symptoms.
- The bitten area becomes infected.
When should I seek emergency care?
The Mayo Clinic recommends calling 9-1-1 if you:
- Develop a severe headache
- Have difficulty breathing
- Experience paralysis or heart palpitations
Unfortunately, ticks aren’t going anywhere
Ticks and tick-borne diseases are on the rise across the country. State and federal agencies and other organizations are allocating more funding to survey ticks and tick-borne diseases, and to further education, prevention, and human disease surveillance.
Meanwhile, we encourage you to continue to educate yourself and your friends and family about ticks. We hope this information helps!