Ticks and Lyme Disease

Tick on a persons arm (photo: Andy Lagager)
An uncomfortable tickle may mean a tick is crawling on you. (Photo by Andy Lagager)


For many people, finding a tick latched onto their leg is enough to put a damper on a trip to the woods. It's like finding a mouse in the cupboard or a roach in your bed sheets, and leaves you feeling unaccountably paranoid.

With recent publicity given to the threat of Lyme disease, people's fears have intensified and some are actually afraid to visit the forest.

Prevention is best. Wear a long sleeve shirt and pants tucked into your socks or put masking tape around the bottom. Wear light colored clothing so you can see ticks on your clothes.


Tick Demographics

Weather conditions seem to have the greatest effect on the density of ticks. After a mild winter tick populations are especially high. Ticks are worse in early spring when adults who have over-wintered start moving around looking for a host to feed on. Eggs from the previous year begin to hatch as well.

Ticks are not particularly choosy about their hosts. Any warm-blooded host will do. They climb up in brush and wait for a host to happen by. They attach themselves to the host and suck the host's blood, feeding only until they're full (6-13 days), then drop off and lay eggs. Incredibly, some ticks can survive up to two years between feedings.

A female tick lays from 4,000-6,000 eggs. After the eggs hatch, the tiny larvae or seed ticks, find hosts and feed just as the adults do. The larvae of some types of ticks are almost invisible to the human eye but literally hundreds can feed on one person resulting in painful itching and in some people, an allergic reaction. In most species, the larvae feed only on small mammals and are not a problem for humans.

There are over 300 species of ticks. Different species carry different diseases. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease are two of the better known diseases spread by ticks. Some diseases, such as Lyme Disease may effect pets and livestock as well as people.

Avoiding Ticks

Ticks are going to congregate where they have a high chance of finding a host or where they hatched out as larvae. Any high traffic area should be avoided, including cow paths in pastures and deer paths in the woods. Also avoid tall grass and thick brush. If your pets roam into areas where they are likely to pick up ticks, routinely check them for ticks and use baths, dips, and flea and tick collars to reduce the chances of your pets bringing ticks into your home and yard.

Several commercial insect repellants work quite well. Insure the repellant has the ingredient DEET or PERMETHRIN which is most effective on ticks. In areas of high tick infestation, you'll need to apply it every 2-3 hours. Another proven method of repelling ticks is to sprinkle sulphur on your socks, boots, and pant legs.

Tieing or taping your pant legs tight around your ankles so the ticks can't crawl up inside your pants and tucking in your shirt is also recommended. It won't cut down on the number of ticks you might get, but it will make them easier to spot and remove. Another suggestion is to wear light colored clothing which make the ticks easier to spot. Be sure and wash all clothing promptly to kill any ticks that might remain.

Visitors to recreation areas are also encouraged to stay on mowed trails where the chance of picking up ticks is much less.

Removing a tick

Should you discover a tick, remove it immediately. Never crush a tick anywhere on you., as diseases carried by ticks can pass through your skin and enter your bloodstream. 

Once a tick is embedded, the recommended method of removing the tick is to pull it straight out with tweezers. Grasp the tick close to its head with tweezers and pull firmly. Apply antiseptic to the bite. Removing a tick within 36 hours of when it becomes embedded will lessen the chance of disease transmission.

Tick-borne diseases

You may wish to keep the tick for a few weeks in a vial labeled with the date and location of the bite. If medical attention is later sought, the type of tick has some bearing on the type of disease it might be carrying. For instance, it is the deer tick, much smaller than other common ticks, which is usually associated with Lyme disease. Deer ticks are mahogany brown, oval shaped, and appear to have two separate plates on their backs. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is carried by the Lone Star tick which is a round dark brown tick with a distinctive white mark on its back.

According to some researchers, "Lyme hysteria is vastly a bigger problem than Lyme disease". This may be true, but we recommend people be aware of the disease's symptoms. Two other diseases, ehrlichiosis and babesiosis have also been diagnosed, which have symptoms very similar to Lyme Disease and are easily treated. If the bite looks suspicious, you should see your local physician.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease include:

  • a red or pink rash, or a bump near the area bitten which expands in size and may become as large as 10-15 inches in diameter.
  • fever, chills, headache, and fatique
  • enlarged lymph nodes
  • stiff joints - particularly the knees

If these symptoms are present, a physician should be consulted immediately. Lyme disease can be confirmed by a blood test and progression of the disease can be prevented by proper treatment.