This has been one of the worse seasons in recent memory for ticks, at least in my neck of the woods. Nothing puts a damper on working outside quicker than the nightly search to make sure both Noir and I are tick-free. Taz, I don’t worry about so much. Cats seem to be much better at removing ticks than dogs.
Unfortunately, North Carolina is blessed with numerous types of ticks. Lone Star and dog ticks are most common in the Piedmont, but deer ticks (also known as black-legged ticks) that carry Lyme’s Disease are also sometimes found here. The Tick-Borne Infections Council of North Carolina, based in Pittsboro, has some good information on the pest and the problems it causes (tic-nc.org).
Technically, tick season runs from spring until fall. However, I have generally noticed in my area that ticks show up as soon as the weather warms around March, get progressively worse until June, and then I don’t see them as much. This year we are well into July and I rarely take a walk through the woods without finding at least one pest on myself or on the dog.
Since ticks can cause some nasty diseases like ehrlichioses and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anyone working outdoors needs to be aware. Ehrlichioses is a bacterial infection that causes flu-like symptoms within 1-2 weeks of infection. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is more serious. It manifests initially with flu-like symptoms but can go on to damage internal organs and, in some cases, can cause death.
You can treat the area around your home with an insecticide to kill ticks. Trying to spray the entire wooded area or grassy fields where ticks like to live is much more impractical. That means, your first line of defense is an insect repellent. As much as some folks hate to hear it, the best tick repellent for humans is still DEET. Lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora) is the best natural repellent.
If you just can’t bring yourself to use DEET, mix 1 tablespoon of lemon eucalyptus oil to 1 cup of vodka or rubbing alcohol. Some folks prefer to use witch hazel and that’s OK. You can also add certain other oils like lavender, lemongrass and citronella (10-20 drops) to the mix if you like. Just remember, the primary ingredient is lemon eucalyptus. Substituting regular eucalyptus oil (E. globulus or E. radiate) is not recommended. They won’t be as effective.
According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, if you find a tick on yourself or your pet:
* Remove it by grasping with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and slowly and firmly pulling straight out until the tick lets go. Nail polish, petroleum jelly or hot matches will not make a tick let go.
* Wash your hands and the bite area with soap and water, and clean the bite with disinfectant.
* For later identification should you become ill, you can save the tick in a jar, plastic bag or tape it to an index card using clear tape. Make sure you write down the date the tick was removed.
* If you develop any flu-like symptoms over the next several weeks, see your doctor and let him/her know you were bitten.
We’ve got a lot of summer to go yet. Be safe out there.
* J.D. Walker’s garden column appears each Thursday. Follow her on Facebook at GardenSown.