As you head outdoors for recreation and to work on our yards and gardens, you may encounter one of the most dreaded “ugh bug” species … those blood-sucking ticks that attach to human (and pet) skin and gorge on the host’s blood.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is bad news about ticks.
- There are more types of ticks than ever in the U.S., with the latest addition being the Asian longhorned tick (first seen in the U.S. in 2017). For now, the closest to Iowa they have been found is Arkansas, but as of March 19, 2019, they have been found in 9 states. In addition, 4 of the other 7 species can be found in Iowa. Check out distribution maps here.
- The CDC lists 12 diseases spread by ticks. Not all have been identified in Iowa, but the maps on this CDC page show reported cases in 2016 of Lyme Disease, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis (including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever) and Tularemia. And of course, if you visit other states, you can be infected in those locations, too.
What can you do to prevent tick bites?
- Protect yourself. You can protect your clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin. You can also purchase pre-treated clothing.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-methane-diol (PMD) or 2-undecanone. Check out all registered products using the search tool found on this web page. You can sort the details by a number of factors, including by product and length of protection.
- Avoid areas where ticks are most likely to be present, including woods and areas with tall grasses and leaf litter.
How to safely remove a tick
- Remove it as soon as possible, using a fine-tipped pointy tweezers or a thin, curved forceps (from a pharmacy) to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk as the mouth parts might break off and stay in your skin. If this happens, remove the mouth with the tweezers if possible.
- Clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
- Dispose of the tick by putting it into alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag, wrapping it tightly in tape or flushing down the toilet.
- If you develop a rash or fever within a few weeks of removing the tick, see your doctor and tell him/her about the bite, when it occurred and where you were when the tick attached.
What not to do
Do not remove a tick using these folk remedies for removing a tick as they simply delay removal. In the meantime, the tick has more time to transmit disease-causing pathogens to your skin. Don't:
- Try to suffocate a tick using nail polish, butter or petroleum jelly. This won’t kill the tick.
- Try heat using a match to get the tick to detach from your skin. This doesn’t work as heat only encourages the tick to burrow into your skin.