All New Englanders should be very familiar with ticks. Ticks are arachnids, meaning they are in the same class as spiders and scorpions, but are considered a type of mite. Ticks live off the blood of other animals and detect prey through vibrations in the environment and detecting the body heat of passing animals. When they are ready for their next meal, they “quest,” which means they hold on to vegetation, such as grasses, and outstretch their front legs waiting for an animal to pass so they can grab on.
The most common and problematic tick in the area is the deer tick, otherwise known as the black-legged tick. These are the ticks that spread Lyme disease, which is caused by bacteria that is spread when the tick attaches to a host for a blood meal. Lyme disease is often transmitted early in the warmer seasons because the ticks are smaller and harder to detect, but transmission can happen at any time. Luckily, your chance of catching Lyme disease is minimal if you remove the tick from the skin within 24 hours. If you are doing any traveling this summer, check out this website from the CDC. It provides the geographic ranges of ticks in the U.S. so you know which species to be on the look out for wherever you go.
There are a couple of ways to prevent tick bites in the first place. The easiest would be to avoid tall grasses and highly vegetative areas all together, but with such beautiful hiking areas in New England, who wants to do that! Another thing you can do is to wear light-colored pants, tall socks, and long-sleeve shirts while hiking. This will create a barrier between yourself and the tick (you can also try tucking your pants into your socks), and make it easier to see ticks crawling on you. Apply tick repellent to your clothes and any exposed skin. When you get home, completely remove all clothing and dry them on high heat to remove any lingering ticks. Completely check your body for ticks multiple times. Even if you don’t see one immediately after hiking, they could be lingering on you somewhere and attach eventually. Showering within 2 hours after hiking can help remove hidden ticks that haven’t attached yet. Young ticks can be small and look like specks of dirt or a freckle, so be thorough in your search. Use a thin comb through your hair before and after washing it to be sure no ticks are hiding out there.
For your pets, administering regular tick repellents is the best way to prevent tick bites. Tick repellents can be administered with spot-on topical medications or given orally in a chew, similar to heartworm medication. There is a Lyme disease vaccine for dogs available through your veterinarian to help further protect your dog. Even if your pet is on a regular preventative, it is still important to perform daily tick checks. Ticks like to migrate to warm, moist places, so especially check in the ears and any other areas of the bodies with creases that would be easy for ticks to hide in. If you have a pet with long fur, use a fine-toothed comb to check the fur and look along the skin line to find ticks.
Ticks are best known for spreading Lyme disease but ticks in the New England area can also spread a number of other diseases including some new ones that doctors are still learning about. In general, symptoms from tick bites that might indicate you should seek medical attention from a doctor include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, and other flu-like symptoms. Visit this site from the CDC for the full list of diseases that can be spread by ticks and the associated symptoms.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease:
If you enjoy the outdoors, be mindful to monitor your health for symptoms of Lyme disease. It is entirely possible to have a tick feeding off of you and never find it. Symptoms can occur within 3-30 days after being bitten by a tick.
* Muscle and joint pain
* Swollen lymph nodes
* Bull’s-eye rash (it’s common to have a rash after removing a tick, but one indicating Lyme disease will look like this picture)
Symptoms in dogs include:
* Loss of appetite
* Swelling of joints
To learn more about ticks, visits the Tick Encounter Resource Center through the University of Rhode Island.