How to Prevent Tick Bites

Three Parts:Protecting YourselfInspecting Yourself for TicksRemoving a Tick Properly

Ticks are small arachnid parasites that suck blood from their hosts. You can contract several diseases from tick bites, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and ehrlichiosis.[1] These bacterial infections can cause symptoms like fever, headaches, a stiff neck, muscle and joint aches, and fatigue.[2] Whether you enjoy outdoor activities or own pets who spend a lot of time outdoors, the best way to combat tick bites is to take precautionary measures to protect yourself and your pets. If you find a tick, you'll need to promptly remove it and preserve it to have it tested by your doctor or veterinarian.

Part 1
Protecting Yourself

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    Wear the right clothing. Clothing is the first line of defense against ticks. It's important that you choose clothes that both cover your body and show ticks easily if they climb onto you.[3]
    • Wear clothing with long sleeves and long pants to protect your arms and legs.
    • Tuck your pants into your socks and tuck your shirt into your pants to prevent ticks from having access to your skin.[4]
    • You can easily detect dark or brown ticks on your clothes if they are light-colored, so always choose lighter colors like khaki or white.
    • Keep long hair tied back. You may also want to cover your head with a light-colored hat.
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    Use insect repellent. Before going outside, apply a generous amount of insect repellent to your ears, neck, arms, legs, and feet. Always read the instructions on the insect repellent before using it. Do not apply DEET over any cuts or wounds and do not put DEET near your mouth or your eyes, as it may act as an irritant.[5]
    • Choose an insect repellent with 20 to 30 percent N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET). This ingredient acts as a smell irritant for insects, including ticks.
    • Apply a generous amount of insect repellent to your clothing for further protection from ticks.
    • Treat your clothing with permethrin to further protect yourself against ticks. Choose a product with 0.5 percent permethrin and follow the instructions on the label closely.
    • Repellent with DEET can safely be used on adults and children of any age.[6]
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    Avoid areas with high, dense vegetation. Ticks cannot jump or fly. In order to feed, a tick will climb grass and shrubs in order to come into contact with potential hosts.[7] If you come into contact with leaves, grasses, or plants, there is a chance a tick may brush onto you.
    • Always walk on designated trails that are far from high vegetation areas.
    • When hiking or walking through the woods, stay in the middle of the trail to avoid high grass and overhanging branches.[8]
    • Never sit directly on the ground or on stone walls, as both leave you highly susceptible to a tick bite.[9]
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    Trim or remove high vegetation at home. Ticks thrive in high grass and weeds, usually above ankle height.[10] By trimming bushes and weeds, you can help make your home and the surrounding area tick free.
    • Keep your grass mowed short and remove any leaf litter, brush, and weeds from your property.
    • Store firewood and hang birdfeeders away from your house, as these tend to attract ticks.
    • Build a border around your lawn and any surrounding woods or stone walls. The border should be a flat patch of wood chips, mulch, or gravel at least three feet wide and running the length of your property.
    • Always wear long pants and long sleeves when trimming your lawn or doing yard work and apply insect repellent to your skin and clothes.
    • Ticks flourish in wet/moist areas, so always ensure the area around your home is as dry as possible.[11]

Part 2
Inspecting Yourself for Ticks

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    Check for ticks as soon as you get home. Because tick bites are painless, you should always inspect your body once you get home from spending time outdoors.[12] A tick must first attach to you and feed on your blood for several hours before an infection occurs, so the sooner you remove them from your body, the better.[13]
    • Search for ticks in hard to reach areas like your back, neck, and scalp, or ask someone to inspect this area for you.
    • Examine the parts of your body that are usually warm and moist, like the groin area and under your armpits. Ticks tend to be drawn to these regions.
    • To inspect hard to reach areas on your own, use a full-length mirror and a hand mirror.
    • Tick bites look like small red pea-sized spots, usually raised or swollen. As tick bites are painless, they will appear as a small lump with mild irritation on your skin.
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    Wash and dry your clothing. Even if your skin is protected, ticks can still hitch a ride on your clothing. It's imperative that you treat your clothing with insect repellent before going outdoors and use heat to kill any ticks that may have made their way home on your clothes.[14]
    • Check your clothes for ticks before you get home.
    • You can treat clothing with heat to kill any ticks that might have climbed onto you.
    • If your clothes are soiled, use hot water to wash them. Cold and medium-temperature water won't be as effective at killing ticks on your clothes.
    • Regardless of whether you wash your clothes, you should always put your clothing through the dryer. Use the tumble dry setting at high heat for at least 10 minutes to kill any ticks that may be on your clothes.
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    Shower after you get home. Shower within two hours of returning home. Standing in hot, running water can help wash away any ticks that were on your body but not yet attached. You can also use your time in the shower to do a more thorough check for ticks on your body.[15]
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    Inspect your pets for ticks. Make it a habit to examine your dog or cat for ticks as soon as they come inside. Any ticks that are not removed can potentially infect your pet, and any ticks on your pet's body can also transfer onto you.
    • Dogs and cats do not show a rash like humans do if they get infected with Lyme disease.[16]
    • Cats are thought to be more resistant to Lyme disease than dogs. Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs include fatigue, arthritis/joint pain, and fever.
    • Remove and save the tick as soon as you find it. Contact your veterinarian and schedule a physical exam as soon as possible, and bring the tick to show your vet.

Part 3
Removing a Tick Properly

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    Gather the necessary supplies. If you find a tick on your body, get a pair of fine-tipped tweezers, rubbing alcohol, and cotton balls soaked in an antiseptic. If you do not have an antiseptic solution handy, you can use soap and water.[17]
    • Sterilize the tweezers and any other tools you'll be using. You can do this by dipping them in boiling water or soaking them in rubbing alcohol for a few minutes.
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    Pull the tick straight upward and out. Using heat, oil, or petroleum jelly on a tick will not cause the tick to let go of you, and it may kill the tick with its mouth still in your skin.[18] The only way to safely remove a tick is by using tweezers. If you pull the tick out and it moves around outside of your body, you know you've completely removed it. If the tick is dead when you pull it off, there's a chance the head may have broken off under your skin.[19]
    • Grab the tick’s mouth by positioning the tweezers as close to your skin as possible. Do not grab at the tick's abdomen, as the head can break off and lead to an infection.
    • Gently pull the tick straight out until you can see its mouth detach from your skin.
    • Never try to remove the tick by twisting it, as this greatly increases the risk of the head or mouth parts breaking off under your skin.
    • If the tick's head does break off under your skin, you'll need to see a doctor right away. The risk of acquiring Lyme disease increases significantly after the tick's mouth has been attached for 24 to 48 hours.[20]
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    Clean or disinfect the site. Once you've completely removed the tick and ensured that the head is intact, you'll want to clean the site of the bite. Ticks are known pathogen carriers, but you can also get a bacterial infection from an open wound. For this reason, it's best to clean and/or disinfect the site as soon as you've successfully pulled the tick out.[21]
    • Clean the bitten area with cotton balls soaked in the antiseptic solution and let it air dry.
    • If you don't have any antiseptic solution, you can wash the site of the bite thoroughly with soap and clean, running water.
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    Preserve the tick. If you find a tick, it's important to save it so that a doctor can identify and test it. Preserve the tick in a small, sealed sandwich bag, vial, or bottle. If possible, keep the tick alive to make testing for diseases faster and easier.[22]
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    Follow up with your doctor. If you have any issues removing the tick or if you experience any flu-like symptoms, contact your doctor immediately. Common symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, muscle and joint pain, and fatigue.[23]
    • Tell your doctor when the bite occurred, where on your body you found the tick, and where you believe you picked up the tick.
    • Most cases of infection from ticks are treated successfully using antibiotics for several weeks.
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    Remove ticks from your pet. If you find ticks on your pet, remove them right away with tweezers. You'll need many of the same tools as you would for a tick on a human: fine-tipped tweezers, a fine toothed comb, rubbing alcohol, and cotton balls soaked in an antiseptic solution. Follow the same removal procedures as you would for humans, and be sure to preserve the tick to show your vet.[24]
    • Comb your pet’s fur with the fine toothed comb to expose its skin.
    • When you locate a tick, grab the tick’s mouth using the fine-tipped tweezers.
    • Gently pull the tick straight out until you see its mouth detach from your pet’s skin. Preserve the tick in a sealable sandwich bag or a small bottle or vial.
    • Clean the bitten area with cotton balls soaked in the antiseptic solution.
    • If you have difficulty removing ticks from your pet, your vet can help you remove the tick. Be sure to follow up with your vet in case there's any necessary treatment.

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Categories: Stings Bites and Burns | Animal and Insect Safety