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What to Know About Ticks: 8 Tips for Preventing Bites, Illnesses

Deer tick on hand

Springtime means a more active time for both people and nature, including ticks. The high season for these tiny arachnids tends to occur from April to September.1

According to The American Lyme Disease Foundation, 82 species of ticks live in the United States.2 Bites from several of these species can cause illnesses in humans. While Lyme disease, which is caused by deer ticks (also known as blacklegged ticks), may be the most commonly reported tick-borne illness in the U.S., there are many others, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, southern tick-associated rash illness, tick-borne relapsing fever, tularemia, and 364 rickettsiosis, among others.3,4

While you may not be able to completely avoid tick bites, you can take precautions to lessen the possibility. To help protect you, your family and your pets from tick bites and tick-borne illnesses, this season, keep the following in mind:

1. Know where ticks live.

Different ticks species inhabit in different parts of the country. As for their habitats, they have many, including your own back yard. Ticks may be found in woods, fields, and tall brush and grasses; under leaves and ground cover in a yard; and around stone walls and woodpiles.5 They crawl up from the ground, according to the University of Rhode Island’s TickEncounter Resource Center; they don’t “jump, fly or drop from trees.”6

You may not be able to avoid the places ticks reside, but when you’re outside, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests steering clear of wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter and walking in the center of trails.

2. Dress to prevent tick bites.

When you and your children head outdoors, dress in a way that prevents ticks from making their way onto your skin. Wear close-toed shoes, long pants that are tucked into your socks, and light-colored clothing that helps make ticks crawling on you more visible.

3. Use  repellents to help keep ticks away.

Repellents may not prevent bites, but they can deter ticks. Apply a tick repellent containing 20 to 30 percent DEET to exposed skin and treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin—or buy pre-treated clothing.The CDC also recommends other EPA-registered repellents.

There are also many natural tick repellents in the marketplace. Many question their effectiveness due to limited information and studies. As with most anything, it is up to you to research the products you use and decide what makes sense for you and your family. If you have questions or concerns, talk to your healthcare provider.

4. Dry your clothes after wearing them outdoors.

You may carry ticks home on your clothing. To kill them, the University of Rhode Island’s TickEncounter Resource Center reminds us to place clothes in the dryer on high for 10 minutes—add 5 minutes if using an electric dryer.8 Their study found that ticks were not killed by washing, even in hot water. So, dry first, then wash. Others say you can also hang clothes in the sun for at least 15 minutes on a hot day.9

5. Thoroughly scan skin for ticks.

After being outside, check yourself and your children for ticks—and be timely about it. According to the CDC website, “If a tick is attached to your skin for less than 24 hours, your chance of getting Lyme disease is extremely small; however, other disease may be transmitted more quickly.”

The CDC advises paying specific attention to the following places.10:

  • Under the arms
  • In and around the ears
  • Inside the belly button
  • The back of the knees
  • In and around all head and body hair
  • Between the legs
  • Around the waist

Remember to check your pets, too. The Humane Society of the United States advises you run your fingers slowly over your pet’s entire body and feel for bumps or swollen areas.11

If you need help identifying ticks, visit websites such as tickencounter.org/tick_identification/tick_species or tickinfo.com. You may also contact your state or county extension office for help.

6. Remove ticks with care.

When you find a tick embedded in you, your child or your pet, remove it as soon as possible. To help prevent disease or infection, you must pull out the entire tick—avoid leaving the tick’s mouth attached.

Experts recommend removing ticks with a fine-tipped tweezers—wear gloves if you don’t have tweezers and need to use your hands.12,13 Grip the tick as close to its mouth as possible, and gently pull back—no twisting or jerking. Clean the bite thoroughly. Dispose of the tick in a sealed bag or wrapped in tape, or flush it down the toilet. Don’t use Vasoline, burn ticks or squish them with your fingers.

Visit cdc.gov/ticks/removing_a_tick.html to learn more about proper tick removal and see an illustrated example. For pet-related tick removal tips, visit aspca.org/pet-care/how-remove-tick-your-pet.

7. Feel funny? See a doctor.

Not every tick carries disease. Not every tick bite will result in illness. You may not even realize you’ve been bit. On the flip side, tick bites can also be quite serious. Untreated tick-borne diseases can cause long-term complications and possibly death.14 Unfortunately, the symptoms tend to mimic symptoms of common illnesses, which can make them easy to brush off for some people. Be aware of potential symptoms and promptly see a doctor if you notice them following a tick bite.

Tick-borne disease symptoms typically develop within the first few weeks of a tick bit and may include the following: a red spot or rash near the bite site, neck stiffness, headache or nausea, weakness, muscle or joint pain or achiness, fever or chills, and swollen lymph nodes.15

8. Practice tick bite prevention year-round.

Ticks may be more active certain months of the year, but that doesn’t mean they’re not a concern in the off-season. According to Stop Ticks On People, ticks can be active when temperatures are above 40F, even in the winter. Learn about tick populations and risks where you live, and be vigilant in preventing tick bites throughout the year. You can track tick activity in your region at tickencounter.org/current_tick_activity.

As always, if you have concerns about disease prevention or suspect you may be ill, consult a healthcare professional for medical advice.


1 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Ticks.” Last updated April 25, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/on_people.html
2 American Lyme Disease Foundation. “Other Tick-Borne Diseases.” Last updated April 3, 2013. http://www.aldf.com/majorTick.shtml
3 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Lyme Disease.” Last updated March 4, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/stats/.
4 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Tickborne Diseases of the U.S.” Last updated Jan. 15, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/diseases/
5 Lyme Disease Association, Inc. “Tick Habitat.” Oct. 7, 2009. http://www.lymediseaseassociation.org/index.php/about-lyme/tick-vectors/habitat.
6 University of Rhode Island TickEncounter Resource Center. “TickSmart Tips for TickSafe Living!” N.D. http://www.tickencounter.org/prevention/protect_yourself
7 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Ticks.” Last updated April 25, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/on_people.html
8 University of Rhode Island TickEncounter Resource Center. “TickSmart Tips for TickSafe Living!” N.D. http://www.tickencounter.org/ticksmart/tips
9 WebMD. “Ticks and Tick Bites on Humans: Overview.” N.D. http://www.webmd.com/first-aid/tc/how-to-remove-a-tick-overview
10 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It’s Spring — Time to Prevent Lyme Disease.” Last reviewed and updated May 5, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/Features/LymeDisease/
11 The Humane Society of the United States. “Getting a Tick Off Your Dog.” N.D. http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/dogs/tips/getting_ticks_off_dog.html
12 WebMD. “Overview: How to Remove a Tick.” N.D. http://www.webmd.com/first-aid/tc/how-to-remove-a-tick-overview?page=2
13 U.S. Centers for Disease Control. “Tick Removal.” Last updated June 23, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/removing_a_tick.html
14 University of Maryland Medical Center. “Lyme Disease and Related Tick-Borne Infections.” Last updated Sept. 18, 2013. http://umm.edu/health/medical/reports/articles/lyme-disease-and-related-tickborne-infections
15 Holland, Kimberly. “Tick Bites: Symptoms and Treatments.” Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on Sept. 23, 2013. http://www.healthline.com/health/tick-bites#Overview1

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