It’s that time again–tick season is in full swing throughout Pennsylvania.
Ticks lie dormant when it’s cold, but as soon as temperatures climb to forty degrees or more, they’re out and looking to suck some blood.
According to Penn State Extension Office, there are at least twenty-five species of ticks in the commonwealth. They spread a number of diseases — most notably Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Powassan Virus.
The Centers for Disease Control gives Pennsylvania the dubious honor of having one of the highest rates of tick-borne diseases in the country.
Ticks are pretty much everywhere, but they really like to hang out in woods, brush, and tall grass. So how do you avoid these unwanted hitchhikers?
Experts recommend wearing insect repellent containing Deet; Tucking your pants into your boots or socks (you want the ticks to crawl up the outside of your pants rather than the inside); sticking to the center of trails to avoid contact with tick filled vegetation; and wearing light-colored clothing–which does nothing to stop ticks — but makes it easier to spot them if they hop on board.
If you want to keep the tick population down around the house, the best way is to keep things tidy. Keeping grass mowed and bushes trimmed will cut down on the moist dark areas ticks prefer. And if you see any opossums in your backyard, let them go about their business. An opossum will eat thousands of ticks in a season.
When you get home, you should conduct a tick check. The CDC recommends looking in and around your hair and ears, under the arms, inside the belly button, around the waist, between the legs, and behind the knees.
What is, despite all your precautions, you find a tick attached to you? Take fine-tipped tweezers, or a “tick spoon,” and grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull straight upwards and be sure not to jerk or wiggle the tick. If you do, you might find yourself with the tick body in the tweezers–and the tick head still embedded in your skin, where it will be difficult bordering on impossible to dislodge.
Once the tick’s pulled loose, you have to decide what to do with it. If you want to take it someplace to identify the species, put it in a container or sealed bag. If you want to get rid of it, flush it down the toilet.
Then comes a period of watchful waiting.
You want to keep a weather eye out for symptoms that indicate you’ve contracted a tick-borne illness. The symptoms include a rash–especially the “bullseye rash” associated with Lyme Disease–fever, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, joint swelling and pain.
If any of these happen–especially the bullseye rash–consider contacting your healthcare provider.