It's finally springtime and unfortunately, it's almost time for our favorite wooded areas to start becoming infested with ticks. It's the one aspect we don't appreciate about this time of the year. Aside from just being disgusting, these little blood suckers can spread pathogens and diseases that can make you extremely sick. Things like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted fever, babesiosis, tularemia, ehrlichiosis, and more are all major risks. As if those weren't bad enough, there's also something called Alpha-gal syndrome that can make a person allergic to red meat. We don't know about you, but that one may be our biggest nightmare as hunters. Today we're going to focus on the best ways to remove and kill ticks. Although we'll also touch on how to avoid getting them completely. We're sharing this with our fellow outdoor lovers because we think you shouldn't let your fear of tick season ruin your fun in the great outdoors this year. And because with a few simple precautions, it's rather simple to avoid them entirely. In case you do encounter some ticks, this is how you can best deal with them.
Assuming you've found an embedded tick either on your body or a pet's, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommended method of tick removal is pulling it out with a pair of tweezers. They note to use "steady, even pressure," mostly because if you're not careful and twist or yank on the tick, it could cause the tick's mouthparts to break off and be left in the skin. You don't want that. We also spoke to Dan Wolff, aka: "Tick Man Dan," an expert on ticks and the diseases they carry on this subject and his recommendations are the same. Wolff recommends using your tweezers to brush the legs and body of the tick so the tick's body is standing straight up in your skin. From there, removal is easy.
"Come in sideways, squeeze low to the skin and just lift straight up. That's the best thing to do," Wolff said. "You don't have to twist it, but if you pull it straight up, nine times out of 10 you're going to remove that thing completely intact with tweezers and you won't break it off."
Even if you do break the mouth parts off, Wolff says it's not as big of a deal as people make it out to be.
"You've already been exposed as much as you're possibly going to be when you remove the body of that tick off, so that mouth part in there, that would just be like a little splinter," Wolff told us. "You can let it work itself out or you can pull it out with the tweezers and just keep it clean, keep your fingers clean."
Afterwards, you're usually left with a tick that is still alive. If it's still crawling, that means you got it out whole. The CDC recommends four methods of disposing of it. The easiest way to kill it is to use rubbing alcohol. Douse it in the stuff or drop it in a container full of it. This method takes a while, but it will ensure the tick will not bite again.
The CDC also recommends simply sealing the tick in a container and throwing it away, or wrapping it up in tape so it cannot move. If you do not have alcohol, bleach will do the trick, as will water mixed with dishwashing liquids. Another old-time home remedy is to mix distilled water and eucalyptus oil. Salt is another old-time remedy that will also kill tick nymphs. This tick killer dehydrates them, so it's not a fast solution either, but it is effective. One last thing to keep in mind is that there are wrong ways to kill a tick too. Medical experts say you should never burn them, at least not while it's on your body.
"Don't take a lit cigarette and put it near the tick's butt or a hot match, or anything related to heat," Wolff told us in a video interview.
He did say us you can burn them once they're off your body though. You also should also never try to crush them with your bare hands. Aside from being hard to do (they're tough little critters), there's a chance you could pick up one of those nasty diseases or pathogens we mentioned from the tick's internal organs.
Wolff also told us that because ticks breathe so little, sometimes only once or twice an hour, the traditional method of flushing them down a toilet may not even kill them. In fact, he recommends saving the tick in a small container for a while in case you do develop symptoms of an illness. It could be anywhere from a few days to more than a month after a bite. If you do develop symptoms, you can get the tick tested to find out exactly what it may have passed to you. That allows for quicker diagnosis and a better treatment from your doctor.
How to avoid ticks
Of course, the best way to avoid adult ticks and the problems they bring is to stay out of the areas they're most often found in the first place. Most people experience tick bites after walking around tall grasses or areas with wood piles. That's not always an option if you love the outdoors, or if you spend a lot of time working in it.
There are insect repellents that will do a good job of keeping ticks at bay. However, as we all know, those can often be greasy and smelly, which isn't ideal if you're working in the outdoors on a warm day, or hunting game with a keen sense of smell. Wolff also recommends frequent tick checks when it's warm and active. He says to throw your clothing in a hot dryer for 10 minutes after you get home from the woods. This will kill any ticks hiding on your clothing.
Probably your best defense against ticks is to use permethrin on your clothing. This insecticide is a great option because you can semi-permanently treat your clothing with it and remain protected all season. Permethrin also helps to repel mosquitoes as an added side effect. Most experts think it's also safe to use with pets and small children. In addition to treatments for clothing, many pest control companies now sell this insecticide for use in yards as a deterrent. Wolff personally recommended pyrethroid, a synthetic insecticide to us. It is a product that has been shown to harm bees, so he recommends spraying it before bees become active. He notes if you do opt for a spray control method that you need to keep applying it or ticks will eventually return to a yard, usually after dropping off a wayward deer or raccoon.
"Tick Man Dan says do your daily tick check, and don't neglect your crevices!" Wolff said.
That "check your crevices" bit has become a motto for Wolff. It's both a funny and memorable reminder, and he admits a lot of people tend to neglect checking those areas.
"While you're sitting on the toilet you can get a better vantage point of what I call your 'private goodies,'" Wolff said with a laugh. "You don't want any hitchhikers on your junk, because ticks like your junk."
Most importantly, he notes that people shouldn't be afraid to go out and enjoy their favorite outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, or camping just because of ticks.
"Enjoy the outdoors of course, but don't let it freak you out," Wolff said. "Some people are like: 'Oh, I'm locked in my closet all summer long.' No, just know what to do, behave correctly, do your tick checks, and most likely everything's going to be just fine."
"In your own yard there are certainly things you can do to keep them at bay as much as possible," Wolff told us. "Those things will include keeping the lawn mowed short because ticks don't like dry, hot areas. They like warm, moist areas like leaf litter and that usually occurs mostly at the perimeter. But, if you can keep your lawn cut short, put like a little moat around your yard, three feet wide, mulch, gravel, dirt, just some sort of difference from the woods line and your grass line."
Speaking of yards, the CDC also recommends people clean up leaf litter, mulch, and tall grasses near their homes. Fortunately, it doesn't take much to keep ticks off yourself, children, and pets at home as long as you keep up on your yardwork.
By using a little common sense and by disposing of discovered ticks properly, you can avoid any of the unwanted problems normally associated with these pests.
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