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When outdoors, take precautions to prevent tick bites

One potential problem with outdoor activities is ticks. Ticks are not actually bugs. They are arachnids, like spiders, scorpions and mites. Notice that they have eight legs. There are many different types of ticks.

Ticks feed on the blood of warmblooded animals and humans. They are not only a nuisance, but are capable of spreading diseases such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Lyme disease has flu-like symptoms (headache, fever, stiff neck, muscle pain and perhaps nausea) followed by destruction of joints and bones. Spotted fever forms a rash on hands and feet progressing to rest of body along with chills, fever, headache and bloodshot eyes. There are several other tick borne diseases of lesser importance as well.

There are three tick species in Georgia that most commonly feed on humans: the lone star tick, American dog tick and black-legged tick. There are several stages in the life cycle of the tick, and each stage must have a blood meal for the tick to mature into adult and lay eggs for the next generation. The male fertilizes the adult female while she is engorging with blood on her host. She will then fall off the host and, within three to 10 days, begin laying 4,000 to 6,000 eggs in a mass.

What can you do to protect yourself against coming into contact with ticks? When involved in outdoor activities in wooded areas, use an insect repellent containing the chemical DEET, which will deter ticks from biting you.

Some formulations can be applied to the skin while others are best applied only to clothing. When in these areas, wear long pants and tuck the pant legs in your socks or boots and tuck your shirt in as well. If ticks get on you, they will move up toward your head where they are easier to detect. Check yourself for ticks at least twice a day. The greater the amount of time that an infected tick stays attached to you, the greater the potential it has of transmitting a disease to you.

Remove any attached ticks carefully with forceps, or paper wrapped around the tick as near to the point of attachment as possible. Using tweezers, grasp the tick as close to where it is attached to the skin as possible and gently pull upward, and avoid twisting or jerking to keep the tick mouth parts and body intact. Do not let the head break off since this will increase the chance of infection at the site.

After removing the tick, apply an antiseptic to the site. Keep the tick in a vial of alcohol with date and place where you were bitten in case disease symptoms develop. Often people who have tick borne diseases are misdiagnosed since the illnesses resemble so many others.

Ticks prefer high grass or brushy areas as well as areas with high deer populations. They prefer moisture so their presence is even higher in wetlands, areas with high amounts of vegetation and by bodies of water. Keep the grass in your yard cut at the appropriate height and remove excess brush and weeds to reduce the habitat for ticks.

There are some pesticides that can be applied to reduce the likelihood of ticks. Treat all areas at the same time. Use chemicals labeled for ticks such as Permethrin and others. Make sure you follow all label directions and safety precautions when using chemical pesticides.

Ticks can be a problem but they along with their diseases can be avoided by using repellents and other practices.

Timothy Daly, MS is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or via e-mail at tdaly@uga.edu.