May 8, 2015


Last week a friend of mine and I went out in search of morel mushrooms. We found a few, but I think we found almost as many ticks! Ticks are close relatives of mites and spiders and pass through four stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, nymph and adult. All stages except the egg are blood-sucking parasites that can also carry diseases.

Prompt removal of embedded ticks is important as the risk of disease transmission increases the longer ticks are attached and feeding. The best method to remove a feeding tick attached to an animal or human is to grasp it as close as possible to the skin with tweezers.

Gently, yet firmly apply steady pressure on the tick until you pull it out. If you try to jerk or twist the tick out, you risk the mouthparts breaking off and remaining in the skin where a hard nodule will form until your body naturally breaks it down. Always clean out the wound with a good antibacterial product to help prevent infection.

Do not grasp or squeeze the rear portion of the tick's body. This can force the gut contents of the tick into your tissues and increase the potential for disease transmission if the tick is infected with disease-causing organisms. The use of tape, alcohol, or Vaseline to cover the tick and cause it to voluntarily pull its mouthparts out of the skin is not effective.

Ticks usually crawl onto people below the knees and then crawl upwards. When you are outdoors in known tick areas, wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Wear light colored clothes so it is easier to see ticks on you. For added protection, tuck pants inside your socks. This helps keep them on the outside of your clothing, giving you more time to see and remove them before they get to your skin and start feeding.

Use repellents for additional protection. Apply them to socks, pant legs, and parts of clothing that may brush against vegetation. DEET and permethrin are effective repellents. You can apply DEET to clothing and skin, but permethrin should be applied only to clothing.

Check your clothes and yourself when you've been outdoors in known tick areas. Particularly examine yourself around the waist, under your arms, inner legs, behind your knees, and around your head, including in and around your ears and in your hair. Adults should check their young children for ticks.

Tick control on animals is also important. Many pet owners choose simply to remove ticks regularly from their animals by hand. Other pet owners use chemical products to treat their pets for ticks. Dust or shampoo treatments that contain pesticides are often used, but remember that repeated applications are needed when using these products.

Tick collars are another option. These collars contain pesticides that kill ticks around the head and neck of pets. Manual inspection and removal of ticks on other areas of the body may still be necessary when using tick collars. In addition, collars need to be replaced occasionally in order to remain effective. When using tick collars, read the package carefully for instructions on use. Do not attempt to use these products for controlling ticks on humans.

Your local veterinarian can prescribe certain products for tick control on animals. These products are spot-on, which means you apply a few drops between the shoulder blades of your pet. The chemicals move through the oils of the skin to provide protection on all areas of the body. These products typically persist for up to a month. They are not repellents, so ticks may still temporarily attach to the animal, but those that attach typically die within 24 to 48 hours.

Tick numbers around your home are influenced by the amount of favorable habitat found there such as brushy or tall, grassy areas. You can reduce tick numbers through landscape modification that creates a less favorable environment for ticks and their animal hosts.

Keep native vegetation short around homes, where it borders lawns, along paths, and in areas where people may contact ticks. It is not necessary to treat your lawn for ticks because ticks rarely infest maintained yards. Remove leaf litter and brush, especially from buffer areas where the lawn borders grassy, brushy areas.

It is generally not effective to treat large areas of woods, brush, or grass with insecticides as insecticides do not always reach into areas where ticks are found in the leaf litter. Ticks can also be reintroduced into areas when wildlife carrying ticks move into previously treated areas.

In cases where high numbers of ticks are present in areas adjacent to home yards, treating the edges of wooded or brushy areas and paths can help reduce tick numbers. Use an insecticide labeled for a turf area and contains permethrin, cyfluthrin, or carbaryl as an active ingredient.

For more information on ticks and tick control, contact your local Nebraska Extension office.