Many people do not worry about ticks in the very early spring because they believe that cold temperatures in winter kill the blacklegged tick, brown dog tick or Lone Star tick. However, that is not actually the case; some tick species survive our winters despite freezing temperatures.
For instance, Anaplasma phagocytophilum is a co-infection that can occur with Lyme spirochetes. It acts like an anti-freeze within the tick and enhances the survival of the tick during winter months. It’s also worth noting that states with the highest rates of infections are located in the Northeast, which has harsh winters.
Besides Lyme disease, other infections such as babesia, bartonella, mycoplasma, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, chlamydia pneumonaie and more are often present in infected rodents, insects and ticks. What many do not know is that these co-infections can also be transmitted with Lyme spirochetes once a tick attaches to the human host. Unfortunately, these co-infections are not tested with the Western Blot test.
The Myth of Transmission Time
Who exactly do ticks feed on? Common hosts include the white-footed mice, squirrels, chipmunks, deer and migrant birds. And, of course, unfortunately ticks feed on us too. Once a tick has attached itself and burrowed into the skin, the transmission of Lyme disease and other infections can happen within as little as 20 minutes. It can happen fast once the tick begins to feed. It’s actually a myth that you are “safe” for 24-48 hours (as declared in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines). This myth is also touted in the media during the summer season, giving many a false sense of security if they find an attached tick on their body.
If you do find an attached tick, some early signs to look out for include flu-like symptoms, headaches, neck stiffness, body chills, muscle aches, skin rashes and swollen lymph nodes.
How Do Ticks Sense Our Presence?
Ticks are functioning on primal survival instinct. They need to find a host to feed on in order to reproduce their species. They do not jump off of trees; instead, they are present in leaf litter or planted in groundcover, taller grasses, the bark of trees, bushy areas, space where the garden lawn meets the wooded areas, or plant stems. Spaces where they can crawl up and extend their front legs in anticipation of latching on to an unsuspecting host are also possibilities.
Ticks’ front legs are used as a smelling device; think of them as their “nose.” They become alerted to a potential host’s presence by the following:
- Vibration from footsteps
- Sensing body temperature
- Smelling the ammonia in sweat
Ticks have highly developed senses and are ready to grab on to any passing host.
How We Can Get Infected by a Tick in Our Homes
- If you are trapping mice in the house (basement included), be careful how their remains are discarded. Infected ticks may be attached to a mouse’s face or body, and they are always looking for a new live host.
- Squirrels, chipmunks and raccoons that scurry around the patio and yard are often tick carriers.
- Our beloved pets can be transmission vectors too. Cats are associated with cat scratch disease (CSD), which is also known as Bartonella henselae. It can be transmitted to humans via a scratch or bite from an infected but asymptomatic cat.
- Dogs that roam around in the yard or accompany us on hiking trails are exposed to ticks. Check them regularly after outdoor activities and remove all ticks before coming into the house. Besides Lyme disease, dogs can also be infected with Bartonella infections from fleas.
Prevention Is Key
There are a variety of chemical agents we can use to prevent a tick bite. A popular one is an insecticide called Permethrin. One application of it on clothes can offer protection for several weeks. (Sawyer Fisherman’s Formula Picaridin is also a popular tick repellent.)
Another chemical solution is DEET, although Permethrin is more effective in getting rid of ticks. Make sure to thoroughly read the instructions, avoid contact with the skin, and do not inhale the neurotoxic vapors.
For those who prefer non-chemical options on their clothes and body, there are essential oils we can use. It’s best to dilute concentrated essential oils with carrier oils such as olive oil before applying them to the skin. Tick-preventive natural sprays are available at various garden centers, online and in health-focused stores. All contain a variety of essential oils that are known tick and insect repellents.
As a word of caution, essential oils are potent. Apply a little on the inside of the wrist to check tolerance. If spending a lot of time outdoors, consider a re-applying the diluted essential oil or spray after a few hours in order to maintain protection against ticks.
Random Tick Facts
- 50 percent of individuals never recall seeing a tick on their body.
- Fewer than 50 percent of those with Lyme disease never get a rash.
- There are an estimated 25,000 new cases of Lyme disease per month.
- The bullseye rash only occurs in roughly 40 percent of infected individuals. A fever, headaches and flu-like symptoms can occur without any skin rash.
- 40 percent of individuals with Lyme disease remain sick despite antibiotic treatment.
- One tick bite can transmit as many as 15 infections.
With these kinds of statistics, it is clear we must be proactive when it comes to protection.
Do use preventive measures to prevent a tick bite. In the meantime, keep your immune system strong with an organic diet, regular exercise, enough sleep, stress reduction and lots of laughter. That way, we can enjoy this spring and summer season—tick-free.
Top 10 Ways to Prevent Tick Bites
- Wear lightly colored clothing. Avoid clothes made with a heavy fabric if going outside for a long period of time.
- Tuck pants into lightly colored socks.
- While outside working in the garden and once done, periodically skim over exposed body parts to check for any black or brown spots.
- When wearing a sun hat, be careful not to brush the hat against higher grasses or bushes.
- If engaging in sport activities, consider applying a non-chemical protective agent that will not irritate the skin.
- Spray the bottom and top of shoes as well as socks before going hiking.
- When entering the house, leave all outdoor clothing in the mudroom.
- Toss clothes into the dryer on a hot temperature for 10-15 minutes.
- Do a thorough tick check immediately upon coming indoors. It’s best not to wait until before bedtime to do a tick check on ourselves, children and pets. Check all the crevices especially the crotch, groin and armpit areas as well as behind the ears and scalp. Feel around for bumps or black spots. Visually check for creepers too.
- Jump into a hot shower as soon as possible.