From the first time I heard the word tick, I’ve hated them. Most of that hatred spawned from how, in my younger years, I couldn’t stand the way my mother scoured my scalp like she were reading Braille when I came in from the woods.
Little did I know of the importance of doing so because it didn’t seem possible that something so small could be a big deal.
Ticks are tiny little flat-bodied arachnids, a member of the spider family. But most folks just consider them a menacing little bug because of the tick’s need to find a red-blooded host to feed on before mating.
That process goes something like this.
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After finding a host, the female tick uses those eight little legs to grab a shaft of the unlucky creature’s hair. This allows her to hold steady while she buries her mouth through the skin, completely attaching herself.
Once she’s locked on, she’s ready to feed.
As she fills her belly, the body of this nasty parasite begins to swell to a size as much as 50 times larger than it was before. She’ll then detach herself to mate with the male and lay up to 5,000 eggs.
The males do feed on blood as well, but don’t tend to gorge themselves in the same fashion.
I know that sounds nasty enough but, as many can attest, things can get worse.
Ticks are the leading carrier of diseases to humans in the United States.
They are responsible for transmitting a number of terrible illnesses, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and encephalitis that are often misdiagnosed initially because the patient doesn’t know they’ve been bitten by a tick.
Another major issue with tick-borne diseases is that the blood tests will not show a positive result for weeks after onset.
Without a doubt, our best bet is to check ourselves, family members and animals every time we’ve been outdoors during the warm months.
More often than not, the ticks we find on us haven’t attached yet.
If one has already sunk its teeth into you, there’s a right and wrong way for removing it.
According to WebMD.com, this is how it’s best done.
▪ Use a small pair of curved forceps or tweezers. Wear some sort of hand protection, such as gloves, so you don’t spread pathogens from the tick to your hands.
▪ Using the tweezers, carefully flip the tick over onto its back. Grasp the tick firmly with the tweezers as close to the skin as possible. Gently pull until the tick comes free. Twisting and turning the tick does not make removal easier because the mouthparts are barbed; such actions may break off the head and mouthparts, thereby increasing the chances for infection.
▪ Once removed, don’t crush the tick because this may transmit disease. Rinse it down a sink or flush it down a toilet. Consider keeping it in a tightly closed jar or taped to a piece of paper. Show the tick to the doctor if you become ill from the tick bite.
▪ The area of the bite should leave a small crater or indentation where the head and mouthparts were imbedded. If portions of the head or mouth remain, they should be removed by a doctor.
▪ Thoroughly cleanse the bite area with soap and water or a mild disinfectant.
▪ Observe the area for several days for a reaction to the bite, such as a rash or infection.
▪ Apply first aid antibiotic cream to the area. Application of an antibiotic may help prevent a local infection, but usually does not affect the chance of developing diseases transmitted by the tick.
▪ Remember to wash hands thoroughly after handling any tick or instruments that touched a tick.
Of course, avoiding the pests altogether is the safest bet, and that is easy to accomplish.
Ticks are most often found in grassy areas and amongst shrubs as they wait for a potential host.
Whenever you venture into such areas, wear light colored clothes so that their dark bodies are more easily seen after they’ve jumped aboard. If you have on long pants, tuck them into your socks, blocking their path to your legs.
Apply a good quality insect repellant. There are tons of brands on the market, but it’s best to grab one that says it’s good for ticks. Some that we usually use for mosquitoes just don’t have the punch needed to knock back these little devils.
Hopefully, paying a little attention now will save us from a lot of trouble later.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.