As if there wasn't already enough to worry about this summer, it's tick season, too. Tick populations and tick-related illnesses are on the rise, with blacklegged ticks—one of the species responsible for transmitting Lyme disease—more than doubling in the past 20 years. The FAIR Health organization reports that the diagnosis of Lyme disease has risen 185% in rural areas and 40% in cities within the last decade.
As a parent, pest control expert and founder of a plant-based pest control company, it's my job to educate families on safe, eco-friendly ways to protect against pests. With all of us spending more time in the outdoors this summer, here is everything you need to know to keep your family's summer outings tick- and worry-free.
When does tick season start?
Adult ticks are most active from March to mid-May and from mid-August to November, and young deer ticks are most active from mid-May to mid-August. However, ticks can be active any time the temperature is above freezing. This means warmer, shorter winters can make ticks dormant for a shorter time-span, with tick season starting earlier than usual.
Where do ticks live?
The U.S. is home to at least 90 tick species, and no state is free of them. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that ticks are expanding into new regions nationwide. The blacklegged deer tick, typically found in northeastern and upper-Midwestern states, has started to spread into southern regions. The Lone Star tick, typically found in southeastern states, has expanded into mid-western and northern states. The Brown tick can be found everywhere in the U.S.
How and why do ticks spread?
Due to land clearing, reforestation and urbanization we are in closer contact with wildlife, namely deer, mice and ticks themselves. When deer and mice populations increase, which they have been, so does the tick population. Climate change is another culprit in the spread, affecting the regions ticks inhabit, the longevity of tick season and the way diseases are spread. Warmer weather means ticks can thrive in new locations and have longer active seasons. Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, and because bacteria also thrives in warmth, this can also make Lyme disease more prevalent in certain areas.
How do you protect kids from ticks?
Curious kids should get every opportunity to run around outside and explore nature—with tick safety in mind. Ticks love to hide in the woods, but it's not just the woods parents need to be mindful of. A tick's favorite hangout is in grass, bushes and shrubs, meaning your lawn could become a tick's playground. Ticks don't actively seek out hosts, they'd rather wait for a human or pet to be present, so playing in the yard could make kids and pets into tick magnets.
Here are some easy steps you can take to keep ticks at bay and prevent bites.
- Keep grass trimmed, pick up leaves and clip the grass is a great way to reduce your yard's tick population.
- Dress kids in light colored clothing, tuck their pants into their socks and keep long hair in a ponytail or hat.
- Check kids from head-to-toe for ticks after any outdoor activity, especially in hard-to-see areas like their head, sides and behind the legs. Ticks will crawl on the body until finding a warm place to feed on, so checking inside elbows and armpits is also key. Ticks can be as small as a poppy-seed!
- Wash clothing and shower immediately can also reduce risks.
- Check your pets! Ticks can infect them and also bite you or your child and spread disease. Talk to your veterinarian about preventative tick treatments, and search for ticks by parting their fur and conducting a thorough inspection.
Is tick repellent safe to use on kids?
Not all repellents are created equal, so always use a CDC-recommended tick repellent. While DEET is standard, some concerns have been raised about potential unintended side effects caused by common misuse. Picaridin is another CDC-recommended repellent ingredient that's bio-identical to a black pepper plant, recognized by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) as an equally effective alternative to DEET and protects against both mosquitoes and ticks. When used as directed, picaridin is safe for use on children of all ages and pregnant women.
What should I do if I find a tick on my child?
The good news is, it usually takes ticks around 24 to 48 hours to transmit disease through a bite. Thoroughly inspecting children for ticks after outdoor play—paying particular attention to joints and hard-to-see areas like behind the ear and on the scalp—can make a big difference in preventing disease from tick bites.
- Use a pair of fine-pointed tweezers. Place them as close to your skin as possible and grasp the tick's mouth.
- Firmly pull the tick straight out of the skin.
- Wash the bite with soap and water.
Be sure to follow up after a tick bite by keeping the affected area clean and checking for the possible development of a rash or other symptoms. If your child develops a fever, chills, aches and/or a bulls-eye rash, these are signs to call a doctor.