With the winter months coming to a close and spring right around the corner, many are eager to get themselves out of the house and into nature. Especially true for the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic States, the environment for ticks is flourishing. This season’s record-setting precipitation coupled with milder temperatures outside the norm has created the ultimate breeding ground for this species of pest.
Ticks are most commonly known for spreading diseases such as Lyme, ehrlichiosis, and tularemia. For those who plan to be outside soaking up the sun, health officials advise using caution when heading outdoors. (1)
Season of Ticks Causing Lyme Disease
Officials predict the tick population is expected to surge for the upcoming season. The pesky bugs are crawling out of hiding earlier than usual. Because ticks thrive in warm wet weather, tick season is anticipated to be more of a nuisance this year than recent years. The main reason for concern is that ticks carry diseases they can transmit to people, most notably Lyme disease.
Jim Fredericks, Ph.D., chief entomologist for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) stated in a press release, “While regions across the country were either unseasonably cold or warm this past winter, there’s one factor that almost all of them had in common: excessive moisture. From record-setting snow in parts of Texas and Arizona to excessive rain in the southeast, continued precipitation predicted for most of the country this upcoming season will allow pest populations to continue to thrive and multiply.” (2)
Leading up to spring, the amount of precipitation and temperatures were above average for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. New Jersey’s climatologist David Robinson announced an average of 64.8 inches of precipitation in 2018- making it the wettest year on record. (3)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), climate change is to blame for the increasingly warmer winters. The higher temperatures coupled with increased precipitation allows ticks and their animal hosts to not only survive the colder months but spread out to regions that may not typical for them. (4)
What to Know Before You Go Outdoors
While only a handful of tick species pose a serious threat, many still carry germs that can be harmful to your health. Emergency physician, Dr. Robert Glatter, of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York told Healthline.com, “While there are a multitude of tick species throughout the world, only a number of selected species bite and transmit disease to people. One of the most important and relevant ones is the tick that transmits Lyme disease.” (2)
Lyme disease is considered to be the most common tick-borne disease in the United States. The CDC believes there are approximately 300,000 cases of Lyme disease reported each year. (5) It’s important to understand how to protect yourself, family, and pets when heading outdoors, and what to look for when indoors.
Before You Go Outdoors
- Know where to expect ticks – Ticks live in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas, or even on animals. Spending time outside walking your dog, camping, gardening, or hunting could bring you in close contact with ticks. Many people get ticks in their own yard or neighborhood.
- Treat clothing and gear – Products containing 0.5% Permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing and camping gear, and remain protective through several washing cycles. Alternatively, you can buy permethrin-treated clothing and gear.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered insect repellants – products containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. EPA’s helpful search tool can help you find the product that best suits your needs. Always follow product instructions.
- Avoid contact with tick dwellings– Avoid wooded and high brush areas. Always walk in the center of trails. (6)
- Warnings – Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old. Do not use products containing OLE or PMD on children under 3 years old.
After You Come Indoors
Ticks and tick bites can take a while to discover, so it’s important to take precaution even after you are indoors.
- Check your clothing for ticks – Ticks may be carried into the house on clothing. Any ticks that are found should be removed. Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed. If the clothes require washing first, hot water is recommended. Cold and medium temperature water will not kill ticks.
- Examine gear and pets – Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later. Carefully examine pets, coats, and daypacks.
- Shower soon after being outdoors – Showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce the risk of getting Lyme disease and may be effective in reducing the risk of other tick-borne diseases. Showering can help wash off unattached ticks and is a good opportunity to do a tick check.
- Scan your body for ticks after being outdoors – Conduct a full body check upon return from potentially tick-infested areas, including your own backyard. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Check these parts of your body and your child’s body for ticks (6):
- Under the arms
- In and around the ears
- Inside belly button
- Back of the knees
- In and around the hair
- Between the legs
- Around the waist
If you happen to notice a tick on your body, remove it immediately using a pair of tweezers and grasping the tick as close to your skin as possible. Avoid squishing and breaking the tick as this can cause pieces of the tick’s mouth to stay within the skin.
It can take approximately two weeks to begin feeling symptoms from tick-borne disease. If a rash or fever is noticed, contact your doctor. A prompt, accurate diagnosis is important when looking to avoid further complications. Stay safe out there, and have a wonderful time enjoying the great outdoors!