BEWARE! Summertime is tick time! About Ticks

A female tick with a clutch of eggs. Image credit: CDC/ Sue Partridge, James Gathany

Summer is upon us and so are ticks. HNN is covering ticks, how to remove them, and potential diseases from their bites.

SUMMARY: Ticks are parasites that feed on human blood. Their bites can carry a host of common and rare diseases. Proper checks and removal techniques are key to keeping you, your family, and your pets safe.

This article is part of our Summer Tick Series. In this article, we’ll learn about the basics of what ticks are and how to identify them.

What is a tick?

Ticks are small parasites that feed on the blood humans and other animals. They are ectoparasites, meaning they are found on the outside of the body (luckily for us). While seemingly only a nuisance, ticks can actually be a vector for many diseases, including Lyme Disease, Heartland Virus, and many more.

Ticks will jump from grass or plant matter onto humans, typically in the summer. Once on your body, a tick looks for a suitable bite spot, then begin to feed on blood. The bite can take awhile to set in, so practicing safe-tick techniques can help you find them before it becomes a problem.

How to identify a tick

Tick Lifecycle, How to Identify a Tick, Health Network News

The four life cycles of a tick. Photo credit: CDC

Ticks have 4 distinct life cycles:

  • Egg – The size of a spec of sand
  • Larva – The size of a pinhead with 6 legs
  • Nymph – The size of a poppy seed with 8 legs
  • Adult – The size of a sesame seed with 8 legs, unless engorged with blood in which they can reach almost half an inch in size

Ticks can vary in coloration depending on their age and species, but are generally dark brown or silver-grey.

Where are ticks found?

Unfortunately, ticks that bite humans specifically are found all throughout the United States, although different types are in different climates. Areas with the most ticks are areas where tall grasses can grow, especially the South and California. To see which tick varieties affect your region, please refer to the CDC’s Tick Geographic Distribution.

When are ticks active?

In most of the US, summertime is the big tick season. With increased grass growth and warmer temperature, summer is when most tick bites occur. Certain types of ticks, however, can be active year round or at just below freezing temperatures. The information you read here is applicable year round if you are in a tick prone area.

How do I avoid ticks?

There are two main ways to prevent a tick bites:

  1. Avoid areas with ticks

    The best way to avoid a tick bite is to completely avoid ticks. However, given their nationwide coverage, at times that may be impossible. If you are in urban areas, you generally will be fine if you avoid overgrown grasses and piles of leaf litter. These areas are places where ticks gather, as it is easier to jump on a host that way.

    If you are in the wilderness, the same advice applies. The further you go from an established, non-grassy trail, the more likely you are to have a tick jump on you.

  2. Use preventative chemicals and clothing

    If you can’t avoid tick-prone areas, you can try using insect repellents. Be sure to find a formula that contains at least 20% DEET, picaridin, or IR3535. Be sure to follow any instructions on the bottle/canister when applying.

    You can also wear clothing treated with permethrin, an insecticide that kills ticks. You can purchase pre-treated clothing or buy the chemical and apply it to your clothes yourself. Be sure to follow any instructions for use.

Be sure to know what ticks look like in your area or any area you’re visiting this summer. Tick bites are no joke, as we will explore in our series of articles about ticks this summer.

Be sure to preform self examinations and use proper removal techniques. One of our writers had a tick on their spine in a recent trip to a tick prone area. Luckily, since the writer was preforming tick checks, the tick was removed before the bite could set in. Not today, Lyme Disease.

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