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How to protect yourself from ticks

The diseases that ticks spread seem like stuff made up in horror movies. One bite from this tiny arachnid can lead to a rash, a headache, fever, fatigue, achy joints and problems with your heart and nervous system. The lone star tick can trigger new allergies to meat and dairy that range from mild to serious (anaphylaxis).

Unfortunately, ticks can be active any time the temperature is above freezing. This means you still need to be vigilant and take precautions throughout late summer and into fall.

When is tick season?

The length of tick season varies depending on where you live. The closer you are to a tropical climate, the longer tick season will be. In the southernmost states of the U.S., for instance, tick season can be all year long. Conversely, the closer you are to a polar climate, the shorter tick season will be. In Alaska, ticks are only active from May to October.

How ticks spread disease

Why do ticks bite?

Ticks do not bite to spread disease. They are not mean-spirited creatures. The only reason a tick latches on to a host and bites is so they can have a meal. Like every other living creature, this is how they survive. Unfortunately, since ticks feed on blood, it can create some problems.

What happens when a tick bites?

Before a tick bites, it needs to find a suitable location to feed. The best spot is some place on the host that is somewhat hidden where the skin is easy to pierce. This might be between the legs, under an arm, in the navel, around the waist or in the hair. Finding a place to feed can take anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours.

Once a tick finds a feeding spot, it secretes a small amount of anesthetic, grabs the skin and cuts through. Because of the anesthetic, the host has no idea this is happening. The tick then inserts a feeding tube into the host — many species have a barbed feeding tube and secrete a cement-like substance that helps ensure it cannot be removed during feeding.

A tick can feed for up to 10 days before dropping off to prepare for its next stage of life.

How does a tick spread disease?

When a tick feeds, it takes in the host’s blood. If the host has any blood-borne pathogens, the tick will ingest those as well. Scientists currently believe that ticks do not die from lyme disease (and other bacteria they carry) because their immune system recognizes certain fat molecules and keeps the bacteria at bay.

While a tick is feeding, small amounts of saliva can get past the host’s protective barrier: the skin. If this saliva has any pathogens, they can infect the host. While most tick bites are harmless, some can be life-threatening. The problem is, you won’t know the difference until you start presenting symptoms. While you can have a tick tested for pathogens, the CDC does not recommend this because positive results do not mean you were infected. Additionally, symptoms will likely appear before you even get the test results back.

How do you protect yourself from getting a tick bite?

Avoid areas where ticks reside

Ticks like to spend their time in tall grass, brush and wooded areas. They can also live on animals. If you like to garden, hunt, go camping or even just spend time in your own backyard, you are at risk for getting a tick bite. It’s not realistic or practical to avoid doing activities you love. Just be aware that ticks could be present and take some precautions.

Treat clothing and gear with repellents

If you will be venturing into an area that has a high risk of ticks, treat your clothing and gear with products that have been proven to repel bugs, such as a brand name insect repellent. The CDC has concluded that products containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, IR3535 and 2-undecanone provide reasonably long-lasting protection. Still, it is important to read all labeling information before applying to make sure you understand how safe the product is, especially for children.

Create a tick-safe yard

Besides treating your lawn with an insecticide that is effective on ticks, remove debris and leaf litter and keep your grass mowed. If you have any outdoor play areas, remove nearby shrubs and other vegetation. It can also help to discourage deer or other animals from entering your yard by using deer repellent or constructing physical barriers.

Check your body and shower

It can take up to two hours for a tick to bite. After coming indoors, do a thorough tick check. Inspect your clothing, hair, armpits, legs and every place on your body to make sure there are no ticks crawling around or embedded in your skin. Taking a shower after coming indoors can significantly reduce the occurrence of tick bites as well.

Products that help protect your family and pets from ticks

Murphys Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellent Spray

Murphy’s Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellent Spray

This spray is formulated to protect against deer ticks for up to four hours. It protects against lone star and brown dog ticks for up to eight hours. The good news is it is made of plant-based ingredients so you can spray it directly on your skin or gear for protection.

Sold by Amazon

OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent Aerosol Spray

OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent Aerosol Spray

If you prefer using DEET, this product is formulated with 25% DEET to protect you from ticks, mosquitos, gnats, chiggers and more for up to eight hours. This product also offers the convenience of an aerosol spray.

Sold by Home Depot

Repel Tick Defense and Insect Repellent Pump Spray 6-Pack

Repel Tick Defense and Insect Repellent Pump Spray (6-Pack)

Repel is a step up in strength from OFF! It is formulated with 40% DEET to provide up to 10 hours of protection for outdoor enthusiasts. This pump spray is safe for cotton, wool, nylon, acetate and spandex.

Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Ortho Home Defense Insect Killer

Ortho Home Defense Insect Killer

If you are having problems with ants, spiders, fleas or ticks coming into your home, Ortho’s Home defense can be used to create a perimeter that keeps unwanted crawling things out of your house. A 12-inch perimeter around your foundation can keep bugs out for up to 12 months.

Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Black Flag Flea and Tick Killer Yard Spray

Black Flag Flea and Tick Killer Yard Spray

If you want to create a tick-free yard, a product like Black Flag’s yard spray will come in handy. It treats up to 5,000 square feet and can control fleas and ticks for up to 12 weeks. This yard spray is ready to use. Just connect it to a garden hose and you can start spraying.

Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Frontline Plus For Dogs

Frontline Plus For Dogs

This fast-acting, waterproof treatment for dogs can protect your pet from ticks and fleas for up to 30 days. It is formulated for dogs that are older than 8 weeks and weigh 23 to 44 pounds.

Sold by Amazon, Chewy and PetSmart

Frontline Plus For Cats

Frontline Plus For Cats

This fast-acting, waterproof treatment for cats can protect your pet from ticks and fleas for up to 30 days. It is formulated for cats that are older than 8 weeks and weigh over 1.5 pounds.

Sold by Amazon, Chewy and PetSmart


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