Tick Prevention Worth the Effort

Tick Prevention Worth the Effort August 2, 2016

Tick bites can transmit pathogens that cause a multitude of diseases — some debilitating. As Nebraska is in the midst of the active season for ticks, taking steps to avoid their bite is worth the effort. 

Nebraska is host to the American dog (wood) tick, lone star tick, and brown dog tick (or kennel tick, which survives indoors). A fourth, the Rocky Mountain wood tick, may be found in extreme northwest Nebraska. Typically ticks are most active April through September and found in wooded or shrubby areas and along tree lines and hiking trails. Rarely do they inhabit dry pastures and cornfields.

Ticks wait for potential hosts with their front legs extended in a “questing” position, then latch on, and climb upward toward thin-skinned area such as the head, ears, waist, and behind the knee and groin areas. Undisturbed, they can stay embedded for a week or more.

Creating Barriers

Clothing can make it more difficult for ticks to reach a suitable site where they can attach for feeding. Wearing long pants tucked into socks and a long-sleeved shirt can help. Light-colored clothing is best, as ticks will be more visible against the clothing.

Chemical barriers include commercial products containing diethyl toluamide (DEET) or permethrins. An insect repellent containing 20%-30% DEET can be applied to clothing and areas of exposed skin such as hands, wrists, ankles, and neck. Always follow label directions.

Products containing 0.5% permethrin may be used to treat clothing and boots, repelling ticks for up to six washings. Ticks can survive the wash cycle — but not 30 minutes in the dryer. Buying pre-treated permethrin clothing can repel insects for up to 70 or more washings.

Tick-Transmitted Diseases

Tick bites can lead to disease, paralysis, or even death. (See a list from the Centers for Disease Control of 15 tick-borne diseases.)

In Nebraska Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) usually has 10 or fewer cases reported annually, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NDHHS). Typical symptoms include fever, chills, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, fatigue, muscle pain, and sometimes rash. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is frequently overlooked or misdiagnosed. In 2015 in Nebraska, an individual died after making three trips to the emergency room, twice without a correct RMSF diagnosis, according to NDHHS.

Other tick-borne illnesses in Nebraska are ehrlichiosis and tularemia. Lyme disease is another major tick-borne illness, although infections are thought to begin with out-of-state exposure.

Removing Ticks

If you find a tick embedded in skin, remove it carefully to avoid it regurgitating contents into a person's system. Follow these steps:

  1. Use fine-tipped, pointed tweezers.
  2. Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible and pull straight outward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this may cause its mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin.
  3. Do not squeeze, crush, burn or puncture the body of the tick because its fluids (i.e., saliva, gut contents) may contain infectious organisms.
  4. After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite site and wash hands with soap and water. Save the tick in alcohol for possible later identification. If flu-like symptoms occur, see a physician. If caught early, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, and ehrlichiosis are treatable with antibiotics.
Lonestar tick female dorsal
Figure 1. Female lone star tick
Lonestar tick male
Figure 2. Male lone star tick
Engorged American dog ticks compared to the size of a penny
Figure 3. American dog ticks
Brown dog tick
Figure 4. Brown dog tick
Lonestar tick bite infection
Figure 5. Infection from bite of lone star tick nymph
American dog tick bite
Figure 6. Allergic reaction from American dog tick bites
Lonestar tick bite infection
Figure 7. Bull's eye rash resulting from a tick bite

This bull's eye rash (Figure 7) is a symptom of bacterial diseases such as STARI and Lyme, normally transmitted by the lone star tick. When some ticks bite, they inject bacteria. The bacteria migrate away from the bite in all directions at roughly equal speed, which results in the "bull’s eye." Not everyone bitten by a tick carrying a bacterial disease will show this rash.

(All photos by Jim Kalisch, UNL Entomology)

Resources

For further information, including symptoms of tick bites, diseases, and types of ticks found nationwide, see these resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Also see these from Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County:

and the UNL Department of Entomology: