DALY: Take measures to protect yourself from ticks

During the spring and summer, many people spend time outside working on a variety of projects on their homes and yards as well as enjoying outdoor sports. However, being outdoors also increases the risk of encountering stinging and biting pests, such as mosquitoes, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants. One pest of particular concern is ticks which can carry disease causing organisms. When working outdoors you need to take steps to reduce your chances of being bitten by ticks and contracting a tick borne illness.

Ticks are not insects but are classified as arachnids which also include spiders and scorpions. They have eight legs instead of six as insects have. In our area, there are three types of ticks: the lone star tick, the American dog tick and the deer tick. The lone star tick has a single white spot on its back and long mouthparts. The American dog tick has diffused white markings on its back and shorter mouthparts. The deer tick is smaller than the other two and has no white markings. They feed on both humans and animals.

Ticks thrive in moist and humid environments, especially in areas with thick brush or overgrown grass. They go to the top parts of the vegetation and wait for a suitable host to come by. When brushed by an animal or person, they let go of the vegetation and then climb onto the host. Ticks can only crawl and are unable to fly or jump. They feed by inserting their mouthparts into the skin of a host and slowly take in blood. The feeding process can take a few days depending on its species and life stage. It drops off the host after feeding.

Some ticks carry diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease. These illnesses can sicken people and in rare instances cause death. Most ticks do not carry these disease organisms and the illnesses themselves are not common. However, you should always take precautions to reduce exposure to ticks to reduce the risk of disease.

When outdoors, the best way to avoid ticks is to stay in areas where the vegetation is open and below ankle height. Avoid allowing any vegetation to brush against you. Wear light-colored clothing so you can see any ticks that might get on you. When you are in tick-infested areas wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and hats. Wear long pants and tuck the bottom of your pants into your socks. Also, keep your shirt tail tucked in and wear a hat to keep them off your head. The less bare skin that is exposed reduces the risk of tick bites. For additional protection, apply an insect repellent containing the chemical DEET to clothing and exposed skin. Apply according to label directions.

In your yard, keep the grass cut short, remove brush and leaf litter from near your house and from areas that people and pets use the most. Move children's play areas away from trees and shrubs. You can also apply insecticides to your yard that are labeled to control ticks. Treat your pet with an approved insect repellent for ticks. Consult with your veterinarian to find the appropriate treatment.

Even though they can be troublesome, the risks of being bitten by ticks and contracting one of the tick-borne diseases can be reduced. By avoiding tick infested areas, eliminating places in your yard that is attractive to them and wearing the proper clothing, your chances of encountering ticks will be lessened.

Timothy Daly, Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent, Gwinnett County Extension. Tim may be contacted by phone at 678-377-4010 or by email at timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.