Ag Notes: Take precautions to avoid tick bites

May 04, 2004|JERRY LITTLE

Few outdoor encounters are as disconcerting as finding an attached tick.

Besides their repulsive appearance, ticks inflict bites that cause itching and irritation. A small percentage also may transmit disease affecting people, pets and farm animals. This column will help answer some of the more common questions about ticks and the disease they may transmit.

Q: Where do ticks come from and how can I avoid them?

A: Ticks thrive in woods, uncut fields and brush. They climb onto lower portions of vegetation and attach to a suitable host passing by. To reduce tick encounters, follow these precautions:

* Don't walk through uncut fields, brush, and overgrown areas, especially during April through July.

Walk in the center of mowed trails to avoid brushing up against vegetation. When hiking or camping in tick-infested areas, wear light-colored clothing and long pants tucked into boots or socks and consider using tick repellent.


* Inspect family and pets after being in tick-prone areas. Ticks often attach at the waist, armpit, neck and scalp but can attach virtually anywhere. Promptly remove any ticks, using the method discussed below.

* Keep grass and shrubs trimmed and clear overgrown vegetation from edges of your property. Ticks and their wild hosts will not normally infest areas that are well maintained. Treating the lawn with insecticides is of little benefit since mowed areas are not normally infested.

If insecticides are used, treatment should be concentrated mainly along borders and fences and between overgrown areas and the lawn.

A good way to confirm if ticks are present is to drag a white flannel cloth or sheet through suspected areas. Ticks will attach and be visible against the white background.

Insecticide sprays containing pyrethroids (such as Bayer Advanced Home/Garden J Multi-Insect Killer, Spectracide TriazicideJ, Ortho Home Defense SystemJ) or carbaryl (Sevin) are effective. Such products are sold at hardware/lawn and garden shops.

For better wetting and coverage of vegetation, it's often best to purchase these products as concentrates, so that they can be diluted and applied with a hose end or pump up sprayer. A single application during late-April or May, or when ticks are detected, is often all that's required.

* Free-roaming pets are more likely to become infested than if confined. Ticks on pets can be controlled or prevented using sprays, spot-ons, and insecticide-impregnated collars. See your veterinarian for appropriate products.

Q: What's the best way to remove an attached tick?

A: Using tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull it straight out with gentle even pressure. Petroleum jelly, hot matches and other "folk" methods of removal should be avoided. Wash the bite area, apply antiseptic and cover with a Band-Aid.

Attached ticks should be removed promptly to reduce the chance of infection and disease transmission.

Q: Some clients use the terms "deer tick" or "turkey mite" what are they referring to?

A: These terms are often used when referring to immature (larval) lone star ticks, a common tick throughout much of Kentucky. A person who walks through infested vegetation may find hundreds of the tiny ticks (about the size of the period at the end of this sentence) crawling on them.

Unattached larvae can be removed by bathing or showering. However, once ticks are attached, removal is difficult, and their bite can be very irritating. The lone star tick is not considered to be a vector of Lyme disease, although it can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Q: Should I be concerned about getting Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever?

A: Each year about 20 to 40 cases of Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are reported statewide.

Some of these victims may have been infected while traveling out-of-state.

In Kentucky, probably tens of thousands of people are bitten by ticks each year; so the likelihood of contracting a disease is very low.

In most cases, a tick must be attached for at least 18 to 24 hours for infection to occur. One cannot become infected simply by having a tick crawl over their skin or clothing.

Concerned people should be informed of the early symptoms of tick-borne disease, so they will know whether to seek medical attention.

Q: What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

A: Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose clinically because early symptoms mimic the flu, such as fatigue, headache, fever, or swollen glands, pain or stiffness in the neck, muscles or joints.

The most definitive early symptom is a gradually expanding, circular or oval-shaped red rash, often (but not always) at the site of the bite.

This rash only develops in about 70 percent of infected individuals, however, and may be overlooked.

Persons who experience any of the above symptoms after being bitten by a tick or after spending time in an area where ticks are abundant should see a physician immediately.

In the early stages, Lyme disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics.

Central Kentucky News Articles