Laboratory of Medical Zoology | Tick Bite Protection & Disease Prevention Resource Page

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Each section below identifies key concepts and prevention strategies everyone should know and use to increase tick bite protection and reduce tick-borne disease. The icon to the left of each paragraph is a clickable hyperlink that will bring you to the relevant application on where you can read more about each topic and in some cases, watch videos or use an interactive TERC application. Just click the back button to return to our site.

TickEncounter Resource Center

Learn to identify ticks

While not completely foolproof, the method of recognizing the striking coloration and size of the adult stages make them fairly easy to identify, while the immature stages are often so small that it can be difficult even to see the tick, much less the distinguishing characteristics. At the very least you will need at least a 3X magnifier to see specific characteristics on adult ticks, and you may need the same magnification just to see the immature stages. If possible, we recommend magnifying the tick 10-30 times normal size in order to get a good look.

TickEncounter Resource Center

Remove ticks safely

Just about everyone has their own special way to remove biting ticks. Any of the most common "folk" methods for tick removal, such as touching the back of the tick with a hot match or suffocating the tick under a layer of Vaseline, seem to seek a degree of revenge against the unwanted parasite. Unfortunately, none of these "get even" methods work consistently against all tick species, especially not against deer ticks. With deer ticks and Lyme disease, you just may become infected while trying to get even. To safely remove attached ticks, first disinfect the area with an alcohol swab. Next, using a pointy tweezer, grab the tick "head" as close to the skin as possible and simply pull straight out. Remember to disinfect the bite site again after pulling the tick out.

TickEncounter Resource Center

Now what do you do with the tick?

You've removed the tick, identified it... NOW WHAT? There are commercial and some state health department laboratories that will test ticks to detect the presence of various pathogens, especially Lyme disease-causing bacteria. While not all ticks carry disease-causing microbes, some can be heavily infected. It's usually a good idea to save the tick and make a note as to when it was removed. You may want to advise the tick-bite victim or their parents about the likely risk for infection following a tick bite. On average, about 1 in 5 nymphal-stage deer ticks and 1 in 2 adult-stage deer ticks carry Lyme disease bacteria. In most locations, only about 1 in 200 American dog ticks carry the agent of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and fewer than 1 in 100 Lone Star ticks carry the agent of Ehrlichiosis. Tick infection rates can vary by location.

TickEncounter Resource Center

Encourage Daily Tick Checks

The good news is that prompt removal of most species of ticks can prevent transmission of tick-borne pathogens. It takes more than 24-36 hrs of attachment for nymphal deer ticks to transmit Lyme disease bacteria, and even longer to transmit Babesia parasites. Pathogen transmission delays after tick attachment are a fairly common phenomenon with the exception of tick-transmitted viruses.

The best time to do a full body tick check is right after ending outdoor activity. A more convenient, and still ok time would be as you prepare to shower or bathe before going to bed. Good lighting, a tick check buddy (for those hard-to-see places), or strategic use of a mirror are helpful resources. Reminders to do a daily tick check should be posted in both shower and bunk areas.

TickEncounter Resource Center

Wear tick repellent clothing everyday!

DEET-containing products were thought to be a good option for preventing tick bites. However, recent tests have shown that although DEET is an excellent repellent for mosquitoes, black flies and gnats, it's only effective at repelling ticks for brief time periods after being applied and then must be re-applied. A better option for repelling ticks are "Clothing Only Repellents" such as those containing Permethrin (found in Permanone® Products, Sawyer Clothing-Only Repellent® and Repel®). These products contain about 0.5% Permethin, much less than the amount used to treat head lice on children or Scabies mite infestations of the skin. In the case of tick repellents, using more of the active ingredient than this is unnecessary, and can even lead to chemical overexposure.

You can purchase tick repellent clothes containing permethrin (easiest and most cost-effective) or use sprays and soaking kits to treat your own clothes with permethrin tick repellent. Commercially treated clothing remains tick repellent through 70 wash cycles while treat-at-home sprays and kits provide effective repellency for up to 6 washings. Whichever method you choose, wearing tick repellent clothing makes tick bite protection and disease prevention as easy as getting dressed in the morning!

TickEncounter Resource Center

Don't forget to protect your pets!

Pets are important to your family, and protecting them from tick-bites and tick-borne disease should be part of your tick bite prevention program. Not only do you want to keep your pets healthy, but dogs and cats that roam in tick areas can be a risk to your family by bringing ticks to you when you least expect it.

There are several steps that, when used together, will greatly reduce tick encounters for your pet and your family:Tick Control On Pets,Immunization,Containment.

At the very least, grooming pets after a walk outside through the woods or trails can help protect your pet and family. Dogs and cats typically encounter many more ticks than people do. Because they have thick fur, ticks may take a while before biting a dog or cat. If your dog or cat comes into the house before the tick is attached, their ticks may latch onto you or other family members.

TickEncounter Resource Center

Identifying tick habitats

Different species and stages of ticks have quite different host associations and environmental requirements. This means that they are quite likely to be distributed in different places across the landscape and encounter rates can differ greatly. Most ticks fear drying out the most-some are more sensitive than others. Immature stages (larvae and nymphs) are typically more common in leaf litter, while adult stages may crawl higher on vegetation to latch on to their hosts. Shady edges are favorite spots for ticks to hang out. Avoiding tick habitat in Virginia can be difficult but there are plenty of ways - such as always walking in the middle of maintained trails - to limit tick encounters.

TickEncounter Resource Center

Tick control options

Schools, camps, golf courses, and other public open spaces should strongly consider implementing the most effective integrated tick control methods, especially if they are noticing or getting reports of ticks latching on. Options include rapid knockdown products that can be applied to the highest tick encounter areas, like frequently-used trails and campsite perimeters. Currently, these are usually products in a class known as synthetic pyrethroids which can be sprayed using high pressure or applied as granules. A few minimal risk natural products show some promise, at least against nymphal deer ticks in small field trials.

A new host-targeted approach (called 4-Poster) kills ticks attached to deer and can be effective at reducing both deer ticks and Lone Star ticks. It can be expensive though and is fairly labor intensive to maintain. This method also has use restrictions in many states.

TickEncounter Resource Center

School Nurse and Camp Staff training

School and camp nurses and other camp staff are on the frontline of dealing with tick encounters in children. These professionals especially, should become familiar with the most common human-biting ticks locally, the habitats where each type is typically found, and when each type is active. Activities with children should be planned, to the degree possible, for reducing tick encounters. School and camp staff should always encourage daily tick checks, and should have a plan for taking any attached ticks (or kids with attached ticks) to the nurse. Nurses probably want to have incident reporting strategies on hand as well as tools to help them remove ticks safely, and then better assess and communicate the health risks from each type of tick bite to the tick-bite victim's parents. It's also important to remember that not all tick bites originate at school or camp.