And what if you're bitten?
Whether you’re hiking the dunes at Cape Henlopen State Park, fishing at the edge of Killen’s Pond or playing disc golf at White Clay Creek, it’s important to protect yourself from ticks.
The eight-legged mites feed solely on blood and transmit diseases you don’t want to be stuck with this summer.
Delawareans primarily deal with three types: deer (or blacklegged), American dog and Lone Star ticks. They all have distinguishing features, but to the naked eye, they all look brownish-black or occasionally reddish. The female Lone Star tick has a distinctive white dot in the center of its back.
Each species carries its own plethora of diseases, and tickborne illnesses are notoriously hard to diagnose. Knowledge is key.
Paula Eggers is an infectious disease epidemiologist with the Delaware Department of Public Health, where she tracks tickborne illnesses.
“Any time you’re going to be out in nature, it’s best to take preventive measures,” she said.
Prevention, of course, begins with knowledge.
Ticks live in even the lowest of grasses, like the grass in your yard. According to David Owens, agricultural entomology specialist at the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension in Georgetown, the best way to prevent ticks from infesting your yard is to make it a less ideal place for hosts, like rabbits, skunks and other small mammals.
“Regularly mowing your grass will do a pretty good job of controlling ticks,” he said. “Ticks will avoid crossing a bare threshold, so if you live along a wood line, some people will mulch or gravel it to discourage them from moving out of the woods.”
The wood line is one area you’re most likely to encounter ticks. In warm weather, brushy, wooded and high-grass areas are tick hotspots. In these areas, it’s best to wear long pants or high socks, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control advises treating clothing with permethrin and using bug spray.
“If you’re in a wooded area, stay in the center of the trail,” Eggers recommended.
After returning from a wooded or otherwise highly vegetated area, clothes should be visibly checked for ticks. Nymphs, or baby ticks, can be so small that they’re invisible to the human eye, so continue to take precautions whether you actually see any or not. Place clothing in a dryer, on high heat, for 10 minutes to kill any that may have hitched a ride. This should be followed by a body check and a shower.
The CDC recommends paying particular attention to:Under the arms In and around the ears Inside the belly button Back of the knees In and around the hair Between the legs Around the waist
There are many commonly-used pet medications on the market that repel and/or kill ticks, but pets should be checked daily as well.
So you’ve been bitten
The good news is, even after a tick bites, it takes 24 to 36 hours to actually transmit disease. Hopefully, you found it promptly.
There are a lot of tips and tricks to removing ticks out there, but Eggers recommends tried and true tweezers.
“Grab it as close to the skin as possible and give it one swift pull up,” she said.
The bite site should then be thoroughly washed with soap and water. The CDC recommends disposing of ticks by flushing them.
“I tell people that have been bitten to write it on a calendar,” Eggers said. “That way if anything happens over the next few weeks, you can tell your doctor.”
Symptoms of tick-borne illnesses to look out for include fever, chills and aches and pains, but the most telling symptom is a rash. A circular, bull’s-eye rash can be indicative of both Lyme disease and southern tick-associated rash illness (commonly called STARI), and it doesn’t necessarily occur at the bite site.
A rash is sometimes seen with Rocky Mountain fever, too, featuring small, flat, pink spots on the wrists, forearms, and ankles that spread to the trunk. The rash caused by ehrlichiosis can take many shapes and sizes, while tularemia is often marked by an ulcer at the bite site.
Regardless, if you have symptoms that cause you to seek out a doctor within a month or two of a tick bite, it’s imperative that you tell the doctor. Although many tickborne illnesses are easily treated with antibiotics, they are progressive and difficult to diagnose.
Find out more about these illnesses at cdc.gov.