Often found near wooded and highly vegetated areas, ticks seem to be very abundant at this time. They are blood-sucking, external parasites that require an animal host to survive. There are about 90 species in the U.S. with the black-legged (deer) tick, American dog tick and lone star tick being the types that are most likely to be encountered by humans here in Indiana. The lone star tick is most commonly found in Southern Indiana but has been found throughout the state.
Adult ticks are very small with an oval, flat body and eight legs. Ticks do not have wings and therefore have to encounter their host in passing. Adult ticks most commonly climb upon vegetation such as bushes, trees and tall grass to grasp onto their host.
Not only does a tick bite cause irritation and discomfort, it also is capable of transmitting serious disease to humans and animals. After the tick has attached itself and begins to feed, it secretes saliva containing compounds that prevent clotting, increases blood flow and suppresses the host’s immune response. They also regurgitate excess water that has been extracted from their blood meal into the feeding wound. This is where the possibility of disease-causing pathogens is introduced to the host.
There are some old folk remedies that say to apply a lit match or cigarette, nail polish or petroleum jelly to the tick to make it detach from the skin. Do not attempt these things. They can kill the tick before it disengages its mouth parts and can cause the tick to regurgitate into the wound and increase the chance of introducing pathogens to the host. The most effective way of removing a tick is to grasp it behind the mouthparts, as close to the skin as possible, with forceps, pulling gently and steadily until the tick releases its grasp. Wash the wound with warm soapy water and rubbing alcohol. Flush the tick down the toilet or place it in a resealable plastic bag and throw it in the trash.
Peak tick season in Indiana is early April through July. To avoid a tick bite wear light colored clothing (easier to see ticks on you), a long-sleeved shirt which should be tucked into pants and those pants should be tucked into socks. Applying a repellant that contains DEET will also help. After an outing, remove your clothing and thoroughly check it and your body for ticks. They will not attach themselves right away, giving you a chance to nab them before they start their dirty work.
As always, Happy Gardening!
The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County.