May 26, 2004 | By: Ellen Brightwell
LEXINGTON, Ky.

Winter temperatures were not cold enough to kill many ticks so now these pests are out and ready to feed. Hungry ticks wait on tall grass in overgrown areas and attach themselves to unsuspecting people and animals that pass by.

Tick bites cause itching and irritation that may last a week or longer. Some ticks also carry diseases. The longer an infected tick remains attached, the greater the likelihood of passing on the disease.

“The American dog tick and lone star tick are the greatest problems in Kentucky,” said Lee Townsend, Extension entomologist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

The American dog tick can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The lone star tick produces bites that intensely itch. In addition, several cases of Lyme disease usually are diagnosed in Kentucky each year. Awareness and some simple precautions can reduce potential problems with ticks.

“You do not need to avoid the woods and outdoors out of concern about contracting a tick-borne disease,” added Mike Potter UK Extension entomologist. “Continue to enjoy a healthy outdoor lifestyle by taking preventive measures to protect yourself against tick bites, check for attached ticks, know how to properly remove them, and reduce their habitats through property management.”

To lower the risk of tick bites, avoid potentially infested areas such as wooded areas, overgrown lawns and fields, brush and ground debris. Stay in the center of pathways and do not sit on the ground. Wear light-colored clothing to make it easier to see and remove ticks before they can attach to the skin and feed.

Ideally, people should wear a long-sleeved shirt and pants to reduce the skin area exposed to ticks. Tucking the shirt into the pants and pants legs into socks or boots thwarts ticks’ efforts to crawl onto skin. However, this is not practical during warm or hot weather.

Alternatives are to use a tick repellent approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and more vigilantly check for ticks. Apply a repellent to shoes, shirt cuffs, socks and pants legs. An adult should put repellent on children. Remind adults and children to wash it off after returning. Always read and carefully follow label instructions.

“Remember to frequently check yourself and pets for attached ticks,” Potter said. “Visually inspect clothing and exposed skin. Follow up with a naked, full body examination in a private location. Pay attention to the scalp, the back of and in ears and behind joints. Also check pets because they can harbor ticks that may infect your family. If you or a pet is bitten, it is important to properly remove the tick.”

Potter offered the following removal procedure: use fine-point tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible where it is attached; gently pull the tick straight out; avoid “folk” removal methods such as hot matches or petroleum jelly; wash your hands and disinfect the tweezers and bite site; observe the bite site and monitor your health for signs or symptoms of a tick-borne illness. It is a good idea to put the tick in a vile with alcohol for at least three weeks, because identifying the type of tick will help a doctor with the diagnosis if disease-related symptoms occur.

To relieve itching, apply a topical ointment containing hydrocortisone.

“Another way to reduce potential tick bites is to create an unfavorable habitat on their property,” Townsend said.

Since ticks are susceptible to dehydration, prune trees, clear brush, remove litter, mow grass short and let it thoroughly dry between the times you water. Reduce overgrown shrubbery and trees in areas people often visit by frequently mowing and landscaping these locations. 

Also, make the property unappealing to rodents and other animals that carry disease-causing bacteria and are hosts to ticks. Eliminate birdfeeders, birdbaths and salt licks; put a fence around the property; clear away wood, garbage and leaf piles, and remove structures that provide wildlife homes.

“To kill ticks on your property, chemically treat with carbaryl (Sevin) or a pyrethroid insecticide such as Bayer Advanced Multi-Insect killer, or Spectracide Triazicide,” Potter said. “It is best to consult a professional before using these chemicals, or have an experienced person apply them.”

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Contact: 

Writer: Ellen Brightwell 859-257-4736 ext. 257

Sources: Mike Potter 859-257-2398
Lee Townsend 859-2577455