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The Icky Tick Guide: Awareness, Prevention, and Removal

By Caitlin Potere  •   4 minute read

The Icky Tick Guide: Awareness, Prevention, and Removal

In the last 20 years, tick populations have increased dramatically in Michigan.  Our relatively temperate weather allows ticks to reproduce and spread with ease.  The last few years have been particularly bad, with ticks encroaching into more urban areas.  Nowadays, ticks can be found at your local park and even in well-kept backyards.  In this blog, we'll talk about ways to avoid or repel ticks and what to do if you get bitten.

Identifying Ticks

First, let's meet our most common ticks in Michigan: the dog tick, the deer tick, and the Lone Star tick.

Overwhelmingly, the most common tick in Michigan is the dog tick. It has a wide distribution and feeds on small animals like mice and birds.  They enjoy hitching a ride on dogs and humans, too.  Deer ticks are prevalent but less common, and are most often found along the western coast of Michigan.  However, in the last five years, deer ticks have begun spreading eastward.  The Lone Star tick is a relative newcomer but has quickly spread out to all areas of Michigan.

All ticks are capable of carrying and transmitting several nasty diseases.  The dog tick can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever; deer ticks can transmit Lyme disease; and Lone Star ticks can cause a condition known as "alpha-gal," which causes the person to become allergic to red meat.

Where Are They Found?

Ticks are found wherever their hosts frequent.  Wooded areas, brushlands, and areas with tall grass are often populated by ticks.  Anywhere that small mammals like mice and rabbits can live, you're sure to find ticks.  Deer ticks are more commonly found in the woods.  However, it's becoming common to find ticks in more residential areas and well-mowed urban backyards as well.

How To Repel and Prevent

  • Keep your pets (especially dogs) current on flea & tick prevention
  • Check out this article for tips about making your yard less habitable for ticks
  • Hire a company or use your own lawn sprayer to spray a neem oil treatment on your lawn several times in spring and fall
  • Wear tall, rubber boots when spending time in trouble areas (I like the Forager boots from Muck Boots Company) (ticks can't climb them!)
  • Apply permethrin to hiking boots, pants, shirts, tents, etc. (Click here for a CDC guide on how to apply permethrin)
  • Create homemade tick tubes to reduce tick populations in an area (Click here for a guide)
  • Wear close-toed shoes
  • Wear light colored, non-patterned clothing that makes it easy to spot ticks
  • Wear high socks and long pants, and tuck pant legs into socks
  • Tick check yourself (and your dog) before getting into your car or home: thoroughly look and touch all over, taking care to check waistbands, joints, and hairy areas; ticks love dark and warm spots
  • Ideally, run your clothes through the dryer when you get home; they often survive the wash cycle, but desiccate quickly in the dryer
  • Take a shower ASAP - wet hair can make it easier to find ticks

What To Do If You've Been Bitten

First step: don't panic!  The odds of catching a tick-borne disease in the first 24 hours of a bite are very low.  The most important thing is removing the tick in a calm and safe manner.  There are a lot of folk methods for removing ticks, but most of them are unsafe because they can cause the tick to regurgitate potentially tainted blood back into your body.  Do not attempt to smother or use heat to remove the tick.  Use a product like a Tick Key or tick spoon, or needle-nose tweezers.  If using tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the base as possible and slowly but steadily pull upwards without twisting or squeezing.  If any parts of the tick remain, try to remove them carefully using tweezers.  If you can't get it all out, disinfect the area and wait for the skin to heal.

Contact your family doctor for advice.  Some practitioners will recommend a course of antibiotics to help prevent Lyme and other infections.

A natural approach: In addition to your doctor's recommendations, consider taking a dose of homeopathic Ledum 200c, which helps with insect bites.  You can also apply disinfectant essential oils to area like tea tree or lavender.  Echinacea tincture or capsules taken internally can also help to stimulate a strong immune response (but skip the Echinacea if you have a pre-existing immune condition).

Watch for any new rashes, irritations, or any unusual symptoms within the next month.  Early signs of infection often include fever-like symptoms.  Contact your doctor if you notice anything unusual.

Saving and Testing Ticks

Consider saving the tick and getting it tested through the mail by a company like TickCheck.  You can preserve a tick by taping it to a piece of paper, putting it in an airtight container, or storing it in alcohol.  Getting your tick tested can help give peace of mind, or help to inform you and your doctor about the next best steps of treatment.

CDC Recommendations & Resources

The CDC website has an extremely comprehensive database of information about ticks.  Click here to view it in a new window.

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