By Keith Mickler
County Coordinator and Agriculture Agent
It seems that I am getting questions on a daily basis regarding ticks and how to get rid of them. I don’t know about you but I hate ticks, they creep me out. These little critters are nothing but blood-sucking, disease-transmitting scumbags. Oh, did I mention disgusting?
It’s summer, and outdoor activities are on the menu. Make sure you don’t end up on the menu of a blood-sucking travel partner when you are out and about, say University of Georgia experts.
“Think of them as little vampires,” said Elmer Gray, a UGA Cooperative Extension entomologist. “All ticks require blood meals to survive and reproduce. And the United States has about 80 species of ticks that can feed on humans and other mammals, reptiles, birds and even frogs.”
Ticks common in Georgia are the Lone Star tick, American dog tick, blacklegged or deer tick and brown dog tick.
“Most people are naturally repulsed by the idea of something sucking their blood,” said Nancy Hinkle, an entomologist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “But ticks do transmit diseases, too.”
The Georgia Department of Public Health reports 50-80 suspected cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever each year in addition to a few cases of Lyme disease. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is the most commonly reported tick-borne disease in Georgia.
Tularemia is a relatively rare but potentially serious tick-transmitted disease that has been recognized in the southeastern U.S. for many years. Anaplasmosis, Human Ehrlichiosis, and Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness are all relatively rare, but still potentially serious diseases. All four of these diseases are believed to be of bacterial origin and commonly produce an influenza-like illness.
In general, a tick must be attached to its host for at least 24 hours to transmit disease. “The diseases most often associated with ticks in Georgia are often typified by the onset of flu-like symptoms, including severe headaches, fever, rash, and general flu-like condition,” Gray said. “If you have any of these symptoms following a tick bite or after having been where ticks hang out, see a doctor promptly.”
“Ticks don’t fly, jump, leap or climb very high, so they are seldom found high above the ground,” Hinkle said. “They hang on low-growing vegetation, stick out their hook-like claws and when we walk by, they latch on and climb upward.”
The best way to avoid tick bites is to stay in areas where the vegetation is open or maintained below ankle height. Walking trails should be kept mowed, and hikers should avoid any vegetation brushing against their legs during the summer.
Hinkle recommends treating socks and pant legs up to the knee with repellents containing Deet. For added protection, tuck pant cuffs into your socks. “That keeps ticks on the treated surface and off our skin,” she said.
Repellents help reduce the chance of getting a tick bite, as well. It’s important to target the feet, legs, and waistline when applying repellents.
Around your house, keep the grass cut short, fence the yard so to keep out unwanted tick toting animals that bring ticks along for the visit. To control ticks in the yard use an insecticide containing either bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, lambda-cyhalothrin, or permethrin as needed to reduce tick populations. Gray said, “by keeping the grass cut short it not only reduces places for ticks to live but exposes them to sunlight, which can kill them.”
Georgia has many beautiful outdoor recreation areas, and its citizens should continue to enjoy them. Taking a few precautions and being aware of the symptoms of tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and other, less-common diseases should give you good protection against ticks and tick-borne diseases.
Use tweezers to remove ticks that are attached to the skin. Pinch the tick close to the mouthparts to remove as much as possible. Use a firm, steady pull. Do not jerk or twist because you may break off the mouthparts and get the site infected. Do not use unprotected fingers. Apply a disinfectant to the site immediately after removing a tick and diligently wash your hands with hot, soapy water.
Don’t forget to check the pets
A dog can serve as a reservoir for both Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Gray said. Dogs and cats can catch other deadly diseases from ticks. Ask a veterinarian for an appropriate treatment to repel ticks.
“Check your pets daily for ticks,” Hinkle said. “Run your fingers through their coat and remove any ticks before they start feeding.”
Keith Mickler is the County Coordinator and agriculture agent for The University of Georgia/Floyd County Cooperative Extension. Located at 12 E. Fourth Ave., Rome, GA 30161 (706) 295-6210. Office hours are Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.