Winter weather doesn’t mean time to stop thinking about ticks. Certainly not for the Don’t Get Ticked New York team here at the NYSIPM program. Tick are active year round, and are out looking for hosts We’ve continued to provide resources and give talks around the state, and update our own resources. Visit the Don’t Get Ticked New York page.
Watch this video by Joellen Lampman and share this post!
Ticks and tick-borne diseases have become a significant public health issue in New York, with different tick species and diseases currently present and spreading within the state and region.Visit the Don’t Get Ticked New York page.
November 1, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on It’s (still) tick season — and will be evermore
Sorry to bring up a sore subject, but it’s still tick season. And will be all year round. What … during winter? Really? Yes. But for starters here’s your pop quiz:
A tick’s lifespan is
twenty-four months (that is, about two years)
The best way to remove a tick is to
swab it with nail polish
hold a hot match to its behind
pull it straight up with fine-point tweezers
Even 15 million years ago, it was tick season. Trapped in amber, this tick carries Lyme-causing bacteria. (Photo credit Oregon State University.)
But back to our intro. Here’s the scoop: an adult female that hasn’t yet managed to grab hold of a large animal (think deer — or person) to get that all-important blood meal (can’t lay eggs without it) doesn’t want to wait around till a sunshiny summer day next year, because by then its number is up. Besides, the mice, chipmunks or birds it fed on earlier in its life cycle have only so much blood to go around. So that tick stays just below the soil where tall meadow flowers or low shrubs grow. Waiting. Waiting for a thaw barely long enough for it to scramble up one of those stems.
Waiting for the cues that tell it a warm-blooded animal is at close range. An animal that might be you.
And now for a look at our quiz. A tick’s lifespan? Your answer is (drumroll) C: upward of two years. Here’s how it works: Ticks spend a lot of time in dormancy, aka diapause. Eggs are laid in spring, tucked away out of sight. If some critter doesn’t find and eat them, they’ll hatch during summer as larval ticks (seed ticks, they’re sometimes called). Larval ticks are not infected with Lyme when they hatch — indeed, they’re pure as the fallen snow.
Meanwhile if likely hosts — those mice, chipmunks or birds — wander by, the ticks latch on. And if a host is already infected with Lyme disease or any of its nasty co-infections, those larval ticks, pure no more, are infected too.
Look close and you’ll see that spring, summer, fall, winter … every season is tick season. (Image credit Florida Dept. Health)
Larvae that make it this far morph into nymphs, and it’s diapause season again as the nymphs wait it out till the following spring. Assuming these ticks are now carriers —and about 25% will be — spring is the worst time of year for us. Because these ticks are tiny enough (the infamous poppy-seed stage) that they’re easy to overlook. If you get bit, ipso facto — you get Lyme (and quite possibly a co-infection too).
Things slack off in late summer as surviving nymphs enter a diapause that lasts till the following spring. But you can’t let down your guard, since by mid-fall through winter you’ve got those adult ticks to consider. The good thing (if “good thing” there is)? While half of these sesame seed-sized ticks are infected, they’re also easier to spot and remove.
Our second quiz item? If any of these strike you as valuable folk wisdom, strike the valuable part and know it ain’t so. Nail polish? Matches? Don’t even think of it. Those first two items are just likely to tick that tick off — and it’ll vomit its gut contents into you in its hurry to get out. That is, if it can get out quickly; if it’s really drilled in, it has downloaded a cement-like substance to anchor itself. It takes some doing to disengage, however persuasive the nail polish, burnt match, or myriad other folklore remedies. (Twisting it is another no-no that comes to mind, mainly because someone asked me about it mid-way through this post.)
Pointy tweezers, held right against your skin and gripping the mouthparts, are the way to go. (Image credit tickencounter.org)
If you value your health, get yourself some pointy tweezers, sold for needlepoint and other crafts, and carry them with you always in your bag, backpack, or whatever you haul around. Grasp that tick as close as you can get to your skin and pull steadily. Did its mouthparts remain glued within? Not to worry — the tick will feed no more. And before too many days go by, your exfoliating skin (that’s when the top layer of skin cells drift away) will exfoliate them in turn.
With ticks, prevention can include everything from doing routine tick checks to wearing repellent clothing when you’re outdoors — regardless the season. And you can’t do much better than this for advice about dressing right.
Meanwhile here’s your catchphrase: 32, ticks on you. “32” as in 32°F. Stay watchful — and stay safe.
October 10, 2017
by Matt Frye Comments Off on Steer Clear of Ticks and the Diseases They Carry — the IPM Way
These days if you live near anything green — a suburban development, however humble or high-class; a neighborhood park where shrubs and meadow flowers grow — best you’d read up on ticks, be they black-legged ticks (aka deer ticks) or lone-star ticks (so named for the silvery white dot on the female’s back). While you’re at it, read up on Lyme disease and its suite of co-infections, some nastier even than Lyme.
And know this: no magic spray or treatment will eliminate ticks.
Wear tick-killing clothing. Buy over-the-counter permethrin spray and spray it on your clothing and gear. Used according to the label, permethrin binds to the material and can kill ticks, mosquitoes and other pests following a lethal exposure. Do-it-yourself treatments can remain effective for up to seven washes. Also consider buying pretreated cloths or sending your outdoor socks, pants, and shirts for professional treatments. These can be protected for up to 70 washes.
Follow label instructions for do-it-yourself clothing treatments.
Ticks wait for a passing host on vegetation or in leaf litter. Staying on trails can reduce your exposure to ticks.
Recognize and avoid tick habitat.Tick species differ in where they prefer to hang out. The blacklegged tick (transmits Lyme disease) is found at adult knee-height and below in wooded or brushy areas. When hiking, stay on the trail and away from these areas. If you’ll be in tick habitat, take precautions by wearing long pants tucked into your socks and a light-colored shirt tucked into pants. These steps make it more difficult for ticks to get to your skin. If you’ve treated your clothing with permethrin, this can also increase the exposure of the ticks to the acaracide — the tick-killing substance.
Steer clear of hitchhikers.
Isolate exposed items in large, zippered plastic bags to avoid bringing ticks indoors.
Ticks can be carried on clothing or gear that you used outdoors — gear that you haven’t used permethrin or a repellent on. True, ticks don’t survive long in most homes because of low humidity, but still — you’re safest if you change your clothes and place exposed items in a large, zippered plastic bag in an entryway. Put them in a clothes dryer and run on high heat for 20 minutes. The tumbling action of the dryer and the high heat kill ticks and similar critters. [Note: don’t wash clothes first. Even the hottest cycle might not kill ticks, and it increases the drying time needed.]
Check for ticks. Taking all these steps doesn’t mean you will avoid ticks 100% of the time. Perform daily tick checks even if you haven’t been outdoors in a day or so. Get to know the marks on your skin and recognize new ones. New marks that, if you touch them, just happen to have legs.
Remove ticks safely. Only one method has been officially evaluated for its ability to safely remove ticks — using sharp tweezers, grab a tick as close to the skin as possible and gently pull up. Other methods could increase the risk of acquiring a tick-borne disease. To learn more, see our post “It’s tick season. Put away the matches.”
Protect your pets.
Grooming after outdoor activity with a fine-toothed brush can remove ticks in pet fur.
Just like people, pets can encounter ticks and acquire tick-borne disease. If your pet goes outdoors, it should have some protection against ticks. TickEncounter describes some of the options available for your pets, including oral and spot-on medications as well as collars. Speak to your veterinarian about the best option for protecting your pet against tick bites. Regular grooming with a fine-tooth comb after being outdoors can help to remove ticks that have not attached to your pet’s skin.
At IPM we call it the black-legged tick because that’s its true name. Yet most people in North America — perhaps even you, dear reader — call it the deer tick. A name with curious stories to tell.
But first the commercial: every season is tick season. Impervious to all but the most bitter cold, ticks take shelter in the leaf litter in gardens and woods. Whenever it gets a little above freezing, they crawl out and up. Any adults that failed to find a host earlier in winter or fall scramble into knee-high vegetation. (Females need a blood meal before they can lay eggs.) There they wait patiently for some critter to brush against whatever stalk they’re clinging to, and when it does — they grab hold.
Courtesy of TickEncounter at the University of Rhode Island, this image shows all the life-cycle info you need to know.
Even during this fickle February of 2016, when many places south of the Adirondacks have repeatedly lost their snow cover, leaving the barren ground to freeze hard, those ticks keep ticking along. Yes, many die. But many remain. On lovely sunshiny days when you wander outside to shake off a bout of cabin fever, be sure to dress right to keep ticks off you.
And having done that, relentlessly check yourself for ticks when you get inside.
Now back to our story. That name — deer tick — suggests that deer carry Lyme disease. If you’ve had a bout with Lyme or any of the less-than-pleasant co-infections that black-legged ticks also vector, just thinking of Bambi could give you the chills. But while deer assuredly spread ticks far and wide, they don’t vector Lyme. Which means a tick that is Lyme-free won’t pick up the Lyme pathogen from a deer.
The buck stops there.
Verdant summer meadows? Stay vigilant. It’s too easy to pick up tiny, hard to see nymphs — ones already vectoring Lyme.
The critters that most commonly carry Lyme disease — notably mice, but also shrews and chipmunks — assuredly do get Lyme disease. But odd as it seems, it doesn’t knock them out. Instead they just keep chugging along, doing their mouse or shrew or chipmunk thing. Which includes transmitting the Lyme pathogen to ticks throughout their life cycle. Ticks that grow larger and larger. Ticks that eventually — instead of hanging out low to the ground where the mice are — become large enough to scramble into knee-high vegetation where they’re yet more likely to land on some hapless human. Or dog, raccoon, fox, coyote, skunk, cat, sheep, a ground-nesting bird, cow, horse … the list goes on.
Some, like deer and probably other wild animals, don’t get particularly ill — though it’s not been closely studied. But dogs, horses, and humans (less likely, cats) can get knocked for a loop. Even so, we likewise don’t transmit Lyme; the tick would already need to be infected. The buck stops there.
The next commercial: about that tick that snuck aboard during your post-lunch walk in the curiously warm February sun … you might not have as much time to deal with it as once was thought. Sure, in some cases it’ll be 24 to 48 hours before that tick starts transmitting Lyme. And not every tick carries Lyme or other diseases.
But still, better safe than sorry. Because recent research suggests: as you sit down to dinner that tick might already be dining too, but with consequences you don’t want to bear. Knowing that, relentlessly check yourself for ticks when you get inside. And even if you don’t care for school grounds or a summer camp, this IPM fact sheet is rich with useful information.
Many thanks to Rick Ostfeld (Senior Scientist, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies) and Joellen Lampman (Turfgrass Specialist, NYS IPM).
May 13, 2015
by Joellen Lampman Comments Off on Ticks are disgusting
Ticks are disgusting, but don’t take my word for it. Aristotle, Cato, and Pliny all referred to ticks as “disgusting parasites”. Unfortunately, they pose a greater risk than making you feel like you have things crawling on you. They are a public health risk because they can transmit several diseases, including Lyme disease.
This live black-legged tick nymph is half the size as the one illustrated on the tick ID card. These critters are small! Photo credit: J. Lampman
With this in mind, I always conduct a careful tick check from head to toe after spending time outdoors. After finding two ticks, one adult and one, well, not an adult, I knew it was worth my time. I was eager to get the small one under a microscope to see if I had found a larva, as they are not capable to passing along any diseases. Alas, it was a nymph, meaning that it had already taken a blood meal and was a possible disease carrier. You can understand my confusion, as it is half the size indicated on the New York State Tick ID Card!
Daily tick checks are the best way to protect you and loved ones from ticks and the diseases they carry. The TickEncounter Resource Center has a nifty application that shows which ticks will most likely be found on different parts of your body. The tick species, sex, and age matter! Another handy app is TickClick, a comprehensive, educational application designed to help you identify ticks, have a safe plan of action should you be bitten by a tick, assess disease risk if bitten, and prevent tick bites altogether.
By the way, don’t depend on swimming or showering to remove ticks. They can survive being submerged. Ticks can even survive a trip through the washing machine. (A hot dryer, however, will do them in after 15 minutes. It is best to throw clothes in the dryer prior to washing.)
If you find one embedded in your skin, tweezers are best! Use fine-pointed tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull straight up until the tick releases. Grab it too high, or using other methods such as matches, nail polish, or petroleum jelly, could irritate it, causing it to regurgitate its disease ridden stomach contents directly into your blood stream. Need a video?
Ticks have a complicated life cycle, too — often catching the bacteria from infected mice, squirrels, chipmunks, or voles during their first year, then going dormant till the following year, when as adults they climb into high grass or bushes for their next meal, be it from a deer, a dog — or a person. Nor can they do without blood, because it’s what they need to lay their eggs.