Tick populations seem to be exploding this year and many people are wondering how to prevent tick bites while outdoors enjoying nature. Ticks are arachnids, and they rely on the blood of mammals as a food source. Ticks recognize animals by breath and body odor. They cannot fly or jump, so they wait at the tips of grasses and shrubs for passing animals to latch onto. If you’re having trouble with ticks in your yard, mowing your grass shorter will keep ticks from making it onto your clothes and skin.

There are several things you can do to minimize the impact of ticks while you’re outdoors enjoying nature. The first is to wear long, tight-fitting clothes. Both long tops and long pants will be the most effective, but if you have to choose only one, opt for long pants. Tucking the pant legs into your socks will keep ticks off of your skin. You can also apply a DEET or permethrin repellant to your shoes, ankles, and halfway up to your knees to minimize ticks that end up on you in the first place. DEET repellants are safe for the skin, but permethrin should only be applied to clothes.

Washing your clothes and showering immediately after returning home will give ticks less time to bite you. Ticks favor wet areas like your armpits, groin, and feet. If a tick bites you, prompt removal will minimize the chance of infection with a tick-borne disease.

There are four major tick-borne diseases in Kansas, the most well-known being Lyme disease. All these diseases are bacterial, so antibiotics are prescribed if symptoms appear. If a tick has remained on you longer than 24 hours, or for an unknown length of time, consult with your doctor. Removal of a tick is as simple as grabbing as close to the skin as possible and pulling. It will usually take a good amount of force. The feeding tubes on some tick species are barbed to prevent removal.

Once you’ve removed the tick, crushing it will not kill it. Ticks have a strong exoskeleton and will survive most crushing attempts. Flushing them down the toilet is the best way to ensure they don’t hang around. Sanitize the bite site after removal with hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol. After removal, you may see swelling and itchiness like a mosquito bite where the tick was embedded. This is a normal immune response to the chemicals that ticks inject when they bite and is not indicative of any disease. However, keep an eye on that area to ensure that a bullseye rash does not develop. Any abnormal rashes or other symptoms of illness should be reported to your doctor.

The lone star tick is infamous for causing severe food allergies to red meat, but only in very specific circumstances, and even then, very rarely. The lone star tick is easily identifiable by the single white dot on its brown abdomen. If the tick has bitten and ingested a sugar called alpha galactose from another mammal and then bites you, your body could recognize the alpha galactose as a foreign chemical and create antibodies to attack it. After consuming red meat (which contains alpha-galactose), your body will recognize the sugar and initiate an immune response, resulting in a severe allergic reaction and possibly even anaphylactic shock. Unlike genetic food allergies, this allergy subsides over time so it is not something you will be stuck with for the rest of your life. However, the best way to avoid having to cut red meat out of your diet is to keep ticks off you entirely. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

For more information, please contact Jesse Gilmore, Horticulture Agent, jr637@ksu.edu or 620-724-8233.

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