When the weather warms, ticks emerge.
While Missouri isn’t currently experiencing a repeat of last year’s early surge in tick populations, experts still predict an above-average year for ticks in 2020.
“Missouri will continue to have ticks this year,” Joe Jerek, a spokesperson with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said April 30.
Reducing exposure to ticks is important because they transmit disease. While they are born pathogen-free, these blood-sucking arachnids often acquire a variety of diseases – some of them potentially debilitating and life-threatening to humans – from the animals they feed upon. In fact, reducing exposure to ticks is the best defense against diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and several other tick-borne illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Not only do ticks multiply during warmer weather, but all animals also become more active, giving ticks a steady food supply and a way to hitch a ride to new areas.
Any family member – including pets – who have been outdoors for extended periods of time should be checked for ticks.
Here are some steps people can take to avoid tick bites when outdoors:
— Avoid walking through uncut fields, brush and other areas likely to harbor ticks. Walk in the center of mowed trails to avoid brushing up against vegetation.
— Spray clothing and exposed skin with a DEET-based insect repellant.
— Wear appropriate clothing, especially in wooded areas, including long pants tucked into socks, shoes or boots. Choose light-colored clothing, which allows wearers to see ticks more easily.
— Service members should use the full range of measures provided by the Department of Defense insect-repellant system. While U.S. military uniforms are pre-treated with permethrin, a pesticide that kills ticks on contact, service members should also make sure trouser legs are tucked inside boots, and use a DEET-based repellant on any exposed skin.
— Wash clothes in hot water and dry on high heat to kill whatever may be hiding on them.
— Avoid touching or interacting with wildlife, which in almost every case is better left alone, according to Sherri Russell, MDC State Wildlife veterinarian.
“Native wildlife can carry ticks, mites, lice, fleas, flukes, roundworms, tapeworms, rabies, distemper, tuberculosis, respiratory diseases and skin diseases,” Russell said.
No matter how well prepared you are before going out, experts say the most effective procedure against tick bites is to check yourself thoroughly once back inside.
Because of the way tick bites work, people who have been bitten have a window of time to avoid being infected, according to the MDC. Ticks have specialized saliva that numbs the bite area and acts as a cementing agent. If the tick is infected, the bacteria take approximately 24 hours to “reactivate” and get in the tick’s saliva. That means that a tick must be actively feeding on its host for several hours to transmit disease.
The CDC advises if you are bitten, and the tick has fully attached itself, to carefully remove it with tweezers. Do not burn, apply petroleum jelly or utilize any other home remedies.
To remove a tick:
— First, disinfect the surrounding area with an alcohol swab.
— Place the tweezers as close to the skin as possible and grasp the tick firmly.
— Pull straight up slowly until the tick either comes out or breaks.
The infectious material is much further back in the tick’s body, so there is no reason to fret if the head breaks off during removal.
The CDC recommends that, after removing the tick, hands should be washed and the bite area and should be thoroughly cleaned with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or soap and water.
The CDC further recommends that after removal, the tick remains should be kept in a clean plastic bag and stored in a cool, dry place. Make an appointment with a primary care provider to have the tick identified and tested for any diseases.
The Missouri Department of Conservation has detailed information about the three most common ticks in Missouri on its website at https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/ticks.
For more information on tick removal, including instructional videos, visit www.tickencounter.org or www.cdc.gov/dpdx.
(Editor’s note: Some information in this story was provided by army.mil.)