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Seems like the ticks are trying to take over the world (at least the Brunswick County portion). If you stay outside much, these pests seem to be everywhere.
The Extension agents are reporting what seems to be an inordinate amount of these obnoxious little creatures awaiting a meal, and that meal may be you! The Master Gardener Hotline has received calls concerning ticks. Homeowners with natural landscapes will normally have more of a problem than others.
Some diseases transmitted by ticks include Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. Anytime you are bitten by a tick, keep close watch on the affected area for up to a month. Flu-like symptoms within 14 days may indicate Rocky Mountain spotted fever. A red ring around the bite within 30 days may indicate Lyme disease. Report any unusual symptoms to your doctor.
How to protect yourself from ticks
1) To avoid ticks that may be on grass and shrubs, stay on wide paths and roads when possible.
2) When practical, layer your clothing. Tuck your pant legs into your socks and your shirttail into your pants. Wearing light-colored clothing makes ticks easier to see.
3) Most commercial insect repellents are effective against ticks. Liberally apply one of these to exposed areas of your body and to your clothing. Insect repellents containing “DEET” should not be used on young children, of if used, be used sparingly.
4) When camping, try to select an area that is not heavily infested with ticks. You can check for ticks by dragging a piece of white flannel cloth or clothing over the grass and shrubs and then examining it for ticks.
5) When you have been in a tick-infested area, examine your clothing and body at least twice each day. Frequent self-inspection lessens the chance of a tick having enough time to attach. A tick must be attached at least six hours in order to transmit disease organisms causing Rocky Mountain spotted fever; therefore, the longer a tick is attached, the greater the chances are that germs will be transmitted. The minimum attachment time required for transmission of Lyme disease spirochetes is not yet known.
The risk of infection with tick-transmitted disease organisms can be greatly reduced by inspecting yourself frequently for ticks and promptly removing any that have attached. Applying petroleum jelly or cleaning fluid or holding a burning cigarette near an attached tick will not cause it to dislodge. Such “home remedies” irritate the skin and kill the tick, making it difficult to remove intact. Here is the best way to remove an attached tick:
1) Shield your fingers with a piece of folded tissue paper or use tweezers. Disease organisms carried by an engorged tick may penetrate even microscopic breaks in the skin. Grasp the body of the attached tick firmly and, without twisting or jerking, pull directly away from the point of attachment, increasing the force gradually until the tick is pulled free.
2) If the tick’s mouth parts break off in the skin, use a sterilized needle to remove them as you would a splinter.
3) Wash the bite area with soap and water and apply an antiseptic such as alcohol.
4) Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after removing the tick.
5) Mark the date of the tick bite on a calendar. If symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever or Lyme disease develop, you will be able to tell your physician when you were bitten.
6) Save the tick by preserving it in rubbing alcohol. If you cannot identify it, take it to the Cooperative Extension Service.
Ticks and pets
Pets may transport ticks into the family living area, so inspect them frequently for ticks. Remove attached ticks from pets using the same procedures described for people. Control ticks on pets using flea-tick collars and powder or liquid formulations of pesticides. In addition, several safe and effective pesticides can control ticks in pet quarters. Contact the Cooperative Extension Service for advice on pesticides.
Controlling ticks on home grounds and in public-use areas
Weeds and grass around homes and in public-use areas should be kept mowed to discourage rodent hosts of ticks from becoming established.
Reduce exposure to ticks by removing the leaf litter layer around picnic tables, in campsites, and along hiking trails.
Severe tick infestations can be controlled effectively with pesticides. Uniform application is critical to achieving adequate control. If a liquid formulation is used, the ground cover in tick-infested areas should be wetted thoroughly to the soil surface. Apply granular pesticides just before rainfall or water the granules thoroughly to assure that the pesticide is released. Until the treated areas have dried, keep children and pets away. Contact the Cooperative Extension Service for advice on which pesticides to use against ticks.
Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P. O. Box 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column.