Although this was not on my list of possible blog posts, it occurs to me that while ticks don't DIE during the winter, we're coming into their season and consequently, ours (for those of us who are entering spring/summer.) With those joys comes risk; I would never advise fear but would heavily advocate for knowledge.
I've watched some parents with Lyme put their children's treatment needs before their own; so many go w/out so that their children have their needs met (medical or otherwise.) Although my sons are adults that Fierce Mommy Heart is always at the ready. I have only been aware of one of my sons ever having a tick, and he found it himself. I think I'm thankful for that ... I might have gone straight to the overreaction of which only parents are capable. This is well likely the reason behind the words, "Don't tell Mom." But with four of 'em, someone eventually spills their guts.
How to Keep You and Your Child/ren Safe From Ticks
There is soooo much information out there about this and some is pretty restrictive; "no going outside," while some is pretty loose; "no big deal."
It IS a big deal but I think the word du jour is "balance." I don't want my grandchildren growing up fearing ticks. I want them to have the confidence that they know how recognize them and what to do if one becomes attached. (Literally. I'm pretty sure ticks are narcissists, being parasites and all.)
Here's what's commonly suggested for keeping ticks away from your home. Remember, ticks don’t fly or jump. A tick climbs to the ends of blades of grass or weeds and waits quietly with its front legs extended until it can grab onto a passing host. <"Shhhhh, here she comes!">
Exterior of Your Home
- Create ‘tick-free’ zones around your home by cutting back wooded areas and increasing the size of open lawn.
- Move woodpiles, bird feeders and bird baths as far from your house as possible. (Birdwatchers can invest in a good pair of binoculars ... much cheaper than Lyme treatment.)
- Mice and chipmunks hide and nest in woodpiles, and eat spilled food from bird feeders. Birds can spread immature ticks over great distances as they migrate, and they may drop ticks in your yard as they use feeders and birdbaths. (Contrary to popular opinion, ticks are not required to carry passports to travel between the US and Canada or Mexico. They are afforded this same freedoms in Europe and other countries worldwide. Stealth. We're talking stealth, people.)
- Keep your lawn well mowed, to a height of 3 inches or less. This lowers the humidity at ground level, making it difficult for ticks to survive. Also, mice and other small animals hosts avoid these neatly trimmed areas because they cannot easily hide or find food and nesting
materials. (People who want riding lawnmowers now have some real justification in spousal debates.)
- Keep garbage in tightly closed cans and don’t put pet food outside or purposely attract and feed wild animals. (See the above recommendation for birdwatchers.)
- Remove brush, weeds, leaf litter, and other yard debris that attract ticks and their hosts.
- Reduce the plants in your yard that deer love to eat (such as azaleas, rhododendrons, arborvitae, and crab apple trees) and increase the plants that they don’t like (such as Colorado Blue spruce, Scotch pine, boxwood, daffodils and marigolds). Extension agencies and local nurseries can offer more suggestions for your area.
- Rake back leaf litter and cut away undergrowth several feet into the edge of any woods that are on or next to your yard. (This is on my own personal to-do list. My summer landscaping priorities have changed GREATLY while writing this!)
- Eliminate dense plant beds close to your house, such as ivy and pachysandra. (Note to self: nix the thought of a maintenance free ivy front lawn. Nix. Nix. Nix.)
- Consider fencing to keep out larger animals, such as deer, as well as neighborhood pets. Ten-foot high fences may be necessary to completely keep out deer.
- Using an electrified fence may also be helpful. (Um, no thanks. I'm gonna have to pass on "stunning" any animals.)
- Keep clotheslines high off the ground and out in the open so laundry will not touch vegetation. (Smart.)
- Keep picnic tables and lawn furniture as far from any woods, shrubs, and undergrowth as possible. (There go all those idyllic romantic visions of summer picnics under the trees RIGHT out the window.)
- Move children’s play areas as far away as possible from woods or other overgrown sites. (WAIT A MINUTE. Does this mean The Adorable Grandson and his father, The Musician, will not be getting a tepee from Safta to camp in while visiting? Probably. UGH. This reminds me of when I used to try and convince my kids that camping in the enclosed front porch was FUN! I even went so far as to light pine incense to simulate being in the woods. I wasn't tick savvy at that point ... just a mom who didn't want to have to get up at 3:00 AM and rescue a terrified kid from the wilds of an urban backyard.)
- Consider using fences to keep children from entering tick habitats.
- Create your vegetable and flower gardens in the middle of large areas of open lawn. (This isn't totally horrible. Raised beds would be a whole lot easier to access out in the open!)
Interior of Your Home
It is rare for tick infestation to occur indoors. However, this can happen if a fully fed female tick falls off a pet and lays its eggs. This may occur in a location like pet bedding, carpeting, upholstered furniture, or crevices in floors and walls. In such a case, vacuum up as many of the ticks as possible, then seal the vacuum bag inside a plastic bag and, if possible, place the sealed bag in the freezer for a couple of days to kill most of the ticks. Then dispose of said bagged bag in an outdoor trash can. Wash all removable bedding or cloth items in hot soapy water before drying them in a HOT dryer for at least 15 minutes. Ticks can survive the washing machine but die at high levels of heat. (I have a friend who recommends that all clothing worn outdoors go IMMEDIATELY into a hot drier.) Apply an appropriate pesticide to all infested areas. It is best to hire a professional pest controller to perform the pesticide treatment. More often, a single tick is carried inside on either a pet’s fur or a person’s clothing. It may then crawl onto another family member, searching for a blood meal. (Kinda makes you feel all warm and cozy inside, huh?)
Inside the home, you can reduce the potential for exposure to ticks by following these suggestions:
- Keep small animals like mice and cute fluffy kittens out of your home by closing up gaps around doors, windows, and other places.
- Check your clothing carefully for ticks before you come inside, and check your whole body once you’re indoors. (I have friends that "tick check" twice a day; once after coming in from the outdoors and again before bed. The most oft recommended suggestions include soaping up and checking all over; paying close attention to hairlines, warm dark places, and in between one's toes. Oddly, navels are a big hit with ticks. Pervs. For parents of young children this can become a routine one follows when a child comes in from playing outdoors and again at bath time. Parents of older children are well advised to respect their privacy and modesty, and teach them how to perform a tick check on themselves after coming indoors and when bathing. I have heard OUTRAGEOUSLY hysterical stories of friends tick checking each other. (The best story coming from an area doctor whose hunting buddy was bitten and developed Lyme. "Do you KNOW there are no good Lyme doctors in Michigan?" he asked outraged. I muttered, "Yeah. I heard that, too." Clearly he was not a PCP ... )
If you have pets that go outdoors:
- Groom them carefully for ticks every time they’ve been outside. (One might consider shaving them down for the summer. I hear "the puppy cut" is a real hit at the groomer's this time of year. Shaving a cat might be an issue ...)
- Designate specific sleeping areas for your pets, and check their bedding routinely for ticks that might have dropped off them while they sleep.
- Keep pets off furniture where ticks can become hidden in the fabric or cushions.
- Seek your veterinarian’s advice before using flea and tick control products on your pet or its bedding.
- Remember that exposing your pet to more than one type of treatment (flea and tick collars, dips, baths, or powders) within a short period of time might seriously harm your pet.
(It's true ... animals are more quickly treated for Lyme than humans. My Big Pharma/Insurance Companies rant is further down the list of topics to cover.)
Chemical Control Options
- Applying pesticides (chemicals that will kill ticks) should be considered only as a last resort.
- It is recommended one hire a professional pest control company to apply any pesticide products.
- Before deciding to apply pesticides, your property should be sampled for ticks. Your yard may not necessarily contain large numbers of ticks, even if you live in a county or other local area where ticks are numerous, or where there is a high rate of tick-borne disease. Sampling can be accomplished by using a ‘tick drag or flag’ (white flannel fabric attached to a pole that is dragged across, or poked into, the vegetation. Ticks, if they are present, will cling to the fabric. Believe it or not, a tick drag is kind of cool. Dress code for such an event? Dork. If tick levels are high, pesticide treatment may be justified.
- Pesticides come in both liquid and granular form. The type of vegetation in your yard and the stage of the ticks that are present will help determine what kind of product is best for your situation.
* Liquid pesticides will kill ticks that are crawling out in the open.
* Granular pesticides will penetrate leaf litter to kill ticks that are hatching, molting, or waiting out the cold weather (overwintering).
For example, for black legged ticks/deer ticks) in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, liquid pesticides can be used to kill nymphs in the spring, larvae in the summer, or adults in the fall. Granular pesticides will kill nymphs that are overwintering in the
fall, or larvae that are hatching from eggs in the early summer. Some pesticides are restricted for use only by licensed pesticide applicators.
Here are some of the safest pesticides that are effective for controlling ticks. All products may not be registered for use in all states.
Class of pesticides:
- Carbamates: Carbaryl
- Pyrethroids: Permethrin, deltamethrin, cyfluthrin
- Pyrethrums: Plant extracts called pyrethrins, primarily for use inside the home and on clothing.
Personal Protective Measures (see also: Dress Like a Dork)
Despite your best efforts, it may be impossible to keep your yard entirely free of ticks and their animal hosts. It is therefore important to use personal protective measures.
- Wear clothing that will prevent ticks from reaching your skin, such as long sleeves and long pants.
- Tuck your shirt into your pants, and your pant cuffs into your socks or boots.
- Use an insect repellent containing DEET (N,N, diethyl-m-toluamide) on your exposed skin. (
- Use an insect repellent containing permethrin on your clothing. (One can purchase permethrin at many major home improvement stores, hardware stores, or online on amazon.com. Clothing should be sprayed and allowed to dry BEFORE it is put on.)
- Always FOLLOW LABEL DIRECTIONS when applying repellents.
- Be sure to check your clothing and body carefully for ticks when you’ve been outdoors.
That's it for today!
In local news I saw my chiropractor who could not BELIEVE the changes in my "gut" with a month of treatment. WOOT!!! I'm adding in a "binder" beginning tomorrow to gather up any free floating toxins (including mold toxins) and send them packing. I'm looking forward to increased healing ... may the process be tolerable.
Tomorrow. How to remove a tick if one is found on one's body (or on one's child's body.) And, as always, some general frivolity.