Oklahoma families are not the only ones excited about the warmer summertime temperatures. Ticks are, too.
“These important public health pests are typically active this time of year through the end of summer,” said Justin Talley, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension livestock entomologist. “Ticks are actually active year-round, but for the next few months ticks will be especially aggressive.”
The pests are not picky when it comes to hosts, so everyone is a target. The most effective tick repellants are products with at least 25 percent DEET.
“If you’re going to be outdoors in areas where ticks are likely to be, apply repellant especially around the ankles, up to the knees and around the waistline,” Talley said. “If you’ll be in heavy brush, like trimming trees or bushes, also put repellant around the neck and all the way to the ankles because ticks will fall out of that vegetation.”
Some natural, plant-based products, such as citrus oil and lemon grass oil, will work as repellants, too. Although these options are less effective than DEET, parents may prefer using natural products on children.
“When using these natural products parents should apply them where ticks will target, especially around the ankles and waistlines,” Talley said. “Both adults and children will need to keep reapplying natural products to boost their effectiveness.”
In the event one, or a few, slip past the barrier of protection and attach, proper first aid involves a pair of tweezers, said Talley.
“Whenever possible, use tweezers to remove ticks, and especially smaller ticks such as seed ticks or nymphs,” Talley said. “If tweezers aren’t available, adult ticks can be pulled out by hand slowly and steadily.”
To properly remove an attached tick, grasp it with tweezers and pull it out with slow and steady pressure. Do not twist the tweezers or yank the tick out.
Do not put any kind of substance or liquid such as Vaseline, bleach or alcohol on the tick.
“Putting substances on ticks can cause the tick to salivate more which could potentially increase the risk of the tick transmitting a pathogen,” Talley said.
Once removed, seal the tick in a plastic bag, write the date on the bag and save it in the event symptoms develop.
“We recommend keeping the tick for about a month,” Talley said. “That way, if you begin developing symptoms, you can tell your doctor you were bitten by this particular tick. That gives the doctor a lot of clues and helps direct the treatment.”
Removed ticks also can be washed down the drain or sealed in a plastic bag and put in the garbage.
“It’s important to dispose of ticks properly so you’re not just throwing them back out on your property. Even if you squeeze some of the blood out, those ticks can survive and lay eggs,” Talley said.
Unattached ticks can be brushed off the body or clothing.
In Oklahoma, the American dog tick and the lone star tick are most concerning because both are linked to tick-borne pathogens.
The state is a hub for tick-borne disease, carrying some of the highest infection rates in the nation for tularemia, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Group rickettsiosis, which includes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. There is also an increased concern around tick-borne illnesses such as Bourbon Virus and Heartland Virus.
The lone star tick is associated with multiple pathogens, including those connected to the Heartland and Bourbon viruses, which have been identified in patients from Oklahoma within the last five years.
Anyone is at risk for being bitten by a tick, but people who are outside constantly, such as landscapers or cattle and horse owners and others in production agriculture, generally are at higher risk for tick-borne illnesses.
For more information about ticks, contact the nearest county Extension office and download free OSU Fact Sheets on the topic, including EPP-7001, “Common Ticks of Oklahoma and Tick-Borne Diseases,” at facts.okstate.edu.