With summer’s end in sight, many flock to the Region’s beautiful woods and plains, taking advantage of the weather for as long as they can.
But nature lovers aren’t the only creatures filling the wildlands during warmer months. This year especially, entomologists have noted a significant rise in tick populations around the country, including Northwest Indiana. More ticks mean a higher possibility of tick bites and related illness.
The good news is that a little bit of knowledge and an ounce or two of prevention goes a long way when it comes to keeping outdoor adventurers safe and healthy.
What do they look like
There are three different types of ticks commonly found in Northwest Indiana— the American Dog Tick, the Lonestar Tick, and the Blacklegged Tick.
The most frequent and easiest to identify is the American Dog Tick. Their big brown or dark grey bodies move relatively slowly, making them stand out keenly on sight or to the touch. While they prefer sinking their mouths into smaller mammals (like dogs), the adult ticks are not opposed to a human-sized snack.
The next-largest population is the mostly-brown Lonestar Tick, so named for the bright white dot sported by adult females. Though their bodies are only slightly smaller than American Dog Ticks, they have much larger mouths that create much bigger bites. Aggressive and indiscriminate, the Lonestar tick frequently bites people in addition to other animals.
Finally, the ticks smallest in both size and population are the dark brown Blacklegged Tick. A common vector for Lyme disease, they prefer four-legged mammals like mice and deer, but will not turn down a two-legged human if the opportunity presents itself.
Protecting yourself and your pets from bites
Humans can easily reduce the likelihood of picking up tick hitchhikers while out and about with a smart wardrobe, some forethought, and a little aftercare.
- Wear a long-sleeved shirt and tuck it into your pants.
- Wear long pants and tuck them into a pair of boots.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat that goes all the way around the head help keep them out of hair and off the neck and ears.
- If possible, treat your gear (clothes, boots, backpack, etc.) with products containing 0.5% permethrin.
- Use insect repellent as directed, making sure to reapply regularly if you’re outside for an extended trip.
- Check clothes, gear, and pets for tick passengers as soon as you leave woods or fields, before loading up, and heading home.
- When you get home, wash yourself and your clothes in hot water. More aftercare tips can be found on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website.
For pets, protection works best with regular vet visits and owner diligence.
- Keep your pet up to date with flea and tick prevention treatments advised by your vet.
- For longer escapades, ask your vet about topical repellent spray options with natural ingredients.
- Check your pet regularly for ticks after spending time outdoors (see next section for details).
- Keep your lawn mowed short and your yard free of tick-habitat debris. More information can be found on the CDC’s pet prevention website.
Checking for ticks and treating bites
After you, your children, or your pets spend any time in the woods or wild grassy fields, it’s a good idea to give bodies a once-over to check for ticks and tick bites.
Spots to check on humans include:
- Under the arms
- In and around the ears
- Inside belly button
- Back of the knees
- In and around the hair
- Between the legs
- Around the waist
Spots to check on pets include:
- In and around the ears
- Around the tail
- Around the eyelids
- Under the collar
- Under the front legs
- Between the back legs
- Between the toes
If you find a tick, don’t panic! Just follow these steps to remove it as quickly and cleanly as possible.
- DO NOT apply heat, nail polish, or petroleum jelly to try to force the tick to detach on its own.
- Using fine-tipped tweezers grab the tick’s mouth as close to the skin as possible.
- Pull directly up and away from the skin with steady, even pressure. The goal is to extract both the mouth and body together. If the mouth breaks off, use the tweezers to remove it after the body.
- Immediately treat the wound with rubbing alcohol and wash your hands with soap and water.
Disposing of ticks can be tricky because of their tough bodies and the possibility of disease. It’s important to do so correctly to avoid skin contamination and make sure they are dead.
- DO NOT CRUSH THE TICK BETWEEN YOUR FINGERS.
- Place the tick in alcohol, a sealed plastic bag or container, wrap it tightly in tape, or flush it down the toilet.
Afterwards, keep an eye out for symptoms for the following few weeks. Rashes around the bite area and high fevers are markers of each of the three common tick-borne diseases in Indiana: Lyme, Mountain Spotted Fever, and Ehrlichiosis.
The CDC provides a convenient Tick Bite Guide with instructional images and a complete list of symptoms to watch for. It also answers frequently asked questions about tick-borne germs and infections.
The bottom line is this— don’t let a fear of ticks keep you and your pet from enjoying a summer walk in the woods or a campout with friends. A little bit of foresight is all it takes to keep everyone protected and passenger-free.