Guest Op-Ed: Tick Talk

By Marianne Dalton, RN

Today, we are going to talk about ticks: where they breed, what can be done to reduce the risk of harboring ticks on your property, tick-borne illnesses, personal protection for you and your pets against ticks, and how to properly remove a tick.

Ticks are tiny pests that live in dark, thick vegetation, wooded areas, or places where the grass is not mowed. They latch onto people, pets and even clothing, and often evade detection due to their minuscule size.

To maximize a tick-unfriendly environment in your backyard, the following are suggested:

• Keep your lawn mowed, with no more than 2 inches of growth.

• Don’t place playsets/picnic tables closer than 3 feet from wooded areas. Create a 3-foot buffer zone between picnic table and play areas, consisting of gravel, mulch, and wood chips.

• Keep leaves raked and do regular weeding around trees and shrubs.

• Trim plants, shrubs, and bushes to allow more sunlight into the depths of the plant. Ticks don’t like dry, sunny areas.

• Make your yard tick-host hostile: ensure that mice and rodents do not have woodpiles or stone walls where they can set up housekeeping. Ticks love to attach to rodents.

• Move any bird feeders or bird baths as far from the house as possible. Birds are lovely to look at, but immature ticks hitch rides on them. Use binoculars to watch the birds from afar.

For more information, follow the links below:

(https://www.mass.gov/service-details/tick-management-around-the-home)

(https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/in_the_yard.html).

I won’t attempt an exhaustive list of all the tick-borne illnesses. However, the black-legged (deer) tick carries Lyme disease. All the tick-borne illnesses have common symptoms: fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches. Since all those symptoms can be linked to any number of ailments, it is best to see your healthcare provider. He or she can evaluate if the symptoms are tick related.

(https://www.mass.gov/service-details/diseases-spread-by-ticks).

How should one prepare to go outside during tick season? It’s not welcome news to hear “wear long sleeves and long pants” during summer weather. However, there are precautions (and compromises) one can make when venturing forth into the great outdoors:

• Wear light-colored clothing, on which ticks are more visible.

• Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, with white socks pulled up over the pants bottoms (bad for fashionistas, good for tick avoidance).

• Treat clothing with the chemical permethrin (EPA approved for tick repellant, on clothing only).

• For any repellent, always read product labels before applying, to ensure proper use and effectiveness.

When returning from your outside excursion, check your body for ticks. Check children and pets as well. Ticks gravitate to areas of the body that are warm and dark, such as in or around hair, belly buttons, ears, underarms, groins, waists, etc. Talk to your vet about tick prevention products for your pet.

(https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/index.html).

If you follow all the above instructions, and you find a tick with its jaws attached to your flesh anyway, don’t panic. There are a few things to remember when removing a tick.

Don’t coat it with petroleum jelly or touch a recently blown-out match head to its body. Ticks have delicate nervous systems, and when stressed by suffocation from Vaseline or barbecue by matchhead, the critters react by regurgitating their saliva into your bloodstream. This is in effect the tick vaccinating you with any number of tick-borne diseases. This is to be avoided.

The correct way to remove a tick, from either yourself, a child, or your pet:

• Get clean tweezers.

• Grab hold of the tick as close to the skin as possible.

• Pull straight up, slowly, and steadily. Twisting will behead the tick with his jaws still under your skin.

• After removal, wash the area with alcohol, iodine or soap and water. (https://www.mass.gov/service-details/personal-protection-against-ticks).

You are now equipped with all you need to know for a safe, tick-free rest of the summer!

Don’t forget the sunblock!

Marianne Dalton, RN, is a member of the Winthrop Board of Health.

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