Take care during tick season

Published 9:37 pm Tuesday, July 7, 2015

It’s tick time — not because they’re more active in summer, but because we are. We’re out there in their habitat. And we wear less clothing.

Ticks are dangerous. Prudence demands that we know their dangers and what to do when bitten, as well as how to avoid getting bitten.

There are four types of ticks in Virginia: the Lone Star tick (east of the Blue Ridge), the American dog tick (west of the Blue Ridge), the brown dog tick (everywhere, but not too common) and the deer tick (northern and eastern Virginia).


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These critters hang out on forest leaf litter, with tall grasses and vegetation in shady areas a close second. The most common and most dangerous is the deer tick, also known as the black-legged tick. It’s the type that carries Lyme disease.

The adults are not as dangerous as the young in the late spring and summer, when they are tiny, the size of the head of a pin. With Lyme disease, a red bull’s-eye rash two to four inches across appears a few days after the bite, along with fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle ache and joint pain. The long-term effects of Lyme disease can be severe for the nervous system and joints.

The Lone Star tick is also quite common. Its bite, too, can cause fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, and mental confusion. The condition carried by these ticks may be Ehrliciosis or Anaplasmosis. Not good.

Dog ticks, whether American or brown, are dangerous as they can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever. A spotted rash appears two to five days after the bites. The same symptoms appear. Again, the long-term effects are life threatening.

So — ticks are dangerous, aside from just being ugly, gross, bloodsucking parasites. What do you do when you find one embedded in your flesh?

Using tweezers, pinch it as close to the skin as possible — without rupturing the body bulge — and pull straight out. Try not to the leave the head in the skin. Clean the area with alcohol, and wash your hands. Flush the offending brute.

No matter what Cousin Jake or Lulu says, don’t try using nail polish, petroleum jelly, a hot match or alcohol (either externally or internally).

To prevent getting bitten in the first place, follow commonsense rules. Avoid prime habitat (forest leaf litter and tall vegetation in shady areas.) Cut the grass in your yard. Blouse your pants (tuck them inside your socks). Use insect repellent — adults, 50 percent DEET, and kids, 30 percent DEET. Wear light-colored clothing so you can see them crawling.

And the most fun of all, after a day spent in tick territory, you and your significant other can perform a tick check or close inspection of one another.

Be safe. Ticks are nothing to fool around with.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.