One of the most surprising (and annoying) side effects of climate change is a rise in tick numbers. Thanks to warmer winters allowing ticks to remain active longer, scientists say this summer will see the most ticks in years, contributing to more cases of tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease and babesiosis in the United States. Yikes.
If just the thought of this growing parasite population makes you itch, don’t panic. There are plenty of ways to combat these creepy critters and stay safe all season.
1. Use tick-killing repellent
Spray your body down before venturing outdoors and in wooded areas. Ticks can’t jump or fly, so feet and ankles are the typical entry point. Spraying socks and shoes in advance can ward them off and keep them away. Repellent with 10-30% DEET is the most effective and is considered safe to use for children older than two months (heads up: a few people are allergic to DEET so make sure you talk to an allergist first if you’re unsure about your own reaction to it.)
2. Tuck in your clothes
Ticks travel up the body so tuck your pants into boots or socks and tuck your shirts into your pants. It might not be the most fashion-forward ensemble, but it’ll do the trick. When hiking, wear light-colored clothing, long-sleeved shirts and closed-toe shoes.
3. Give yourself a check-up
Thoroughly check your body after traveling through tick-prone areas; ask a friend or loved one to inspect hard-to-see areas like your back, neck and scalp. Shower immediately after returning indoors and throw clothes on high heat in the dryer to kill any ticks hiding out in the fabric. Kids are the most prone to bites so make sure to check children during bath time, especially around the neck, behind the ears, under the arms and through their hair and scalp. Deer ticks are no bigger than a pencil point so keep your eyes peeled.
4. Remove ticks immediately
If you or a loved one finds a creepy crawly tick on the body, you need to remove it immediately – don’t bother with hot matches or petroleum jelly. Grasp the tick with tweezers and pull out firmly without twisting until the tick lets go of the skin. Part of the tick may stay in the skin, but there’s no need to dig for it; it comes out eventually. Place the removed tick in a zip-lock bag if you think you’ll need a doctor to identify it later. Wash your hands and the bite area with warm water and soap, then swab the bite with alcohol.
5. Get medical care, if necessary
Not all ticks carry disease and most bites are generally harmless, but err on the side of caution and contact a health care provider if any of the following apply:
- The tick has been on the skin for more than 24 hours
- A rash develops; red skin, red dots or a red-ringed “bull’s-eye”
- The bite area is increasingly warm, swelling or oozing pus
- Symptoms like fever, headache, fatigue, stiffness or aching joints persist
- The person bitten experiences pain of any kind
If you heed this simple advice and use common sense, you’ll be one step closer to staying tick-free and happy this summer.