Adult Deer Tick

Don't Stop Looking for Deer Ticks!


Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Henry Homeyer

Nymphs are the biters now, not adults

Don’t relax about checking for deer ticks, even if you haven’t seen any adult ticks this summer. Right now adult ticks are scarce, but those tiny nymphs, which also cause the disease are out and about. Adults will begin to appear at the end of September and remain a problem through June whenever the daytime temperature is above 50 F.

Three types of ticks (compliments Vermont Department of Health)

About 50% of adults carry Lyme disease - or other tick-borne maladies. They’re small: a nymph is only about the size of a poppy seed, while an adult tick is bigger, the size of sesame seed – but still smaller than common deer ticks. Adults get larger when engorged.

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I spoke recently with State of Vermont Epidemiologist Bradley Tompkins who made some good suggestions about preventing diseases carried by ticks. He said that right now the nymphs of the black-legged tick molting into adults and will soon look to attach themselves to humans if given the chance. He said that prime habitat for the rodents that carry ticks are forest edges, stone walls and woodpiles.

Deer ticks feed on mice that often live in woodpiles

Ticks cannot jump on you or drop from trees, he said. You get a tick, whether an adult or a nymph, when you brush up against tall grass or brush that is a resting spot for a tick. You can minimize that chance of getting ticks by keeping your vegetation short in areas where you spend time. You probably will not encounter a tick while playing badminton or lounging on the lawn.

Going for a hike? One of the best things you can do, according to Tompkins, is use insect repellent that is approved by the EPA as a tick repellent. Deet is probably the best repellent. But, he warned, read how long a repellent is good for. If it says re-apply every 2 hours, you really have to do so. After 2 hours? Very little effectiveness.

You may not like using Deet, but it is an effective tick repellent

Wear light-colored clothing (so you can see the ticks) and tuck your pants into your socks. Gaiters are made that are treated with permethrin and will kill ticks. I use one called Lymeez which has Velcro attachments. You can spray your clothing with repellent, too.

Tick gaiters by Lymeez

Tompkins also suggested walking in the middle of the trail, and keeping away from brush on the edges. I like getting my exercise on dirt roads at this time of year, and staying away from places that are likely tick habitats. He also suggested showering right after a hike, washing off any ticks that have not attached to you. Get someone to check your back for ticks, too.

After a hike you can best kill any ticks or nymphs on your clothing by throwing clothes in the dryer on high for 10 minutes. No need to wash everything after each hike. And washing clothes will not necessarily kill ticks. .

If you see a tick attached to your skin, use tweezers to grasp its head and gently pull. Try not to grab it by its body as you might squeeze its pathogens into your body. Don’t try to kill them with Vaseline or a match. Wash your hands well after disposing of a tick.

When I called Vermont state entomologist Alan Graham, he told me that deer hunters may be at elevated risk as dead deer can be loaded with ticks – and a potential source of Lyme disease. He suggested hunters hang their deer over a kiddie wading pool filled with soapy water to contain and kill the ticks. 

Bradley Tompkins said that 2 other diseases carried by deer ticks are less common than Lyme disease, but can be very unpleasant; anaplasmosis and babesiosis. I contracted anaplasmosis at the end of October, 2014 and ended up in the hospital for 4 days. I had a high fever, loss of balance, and much more. It was much worse than the flu. Fortunately it is very responsive to medication, as is babesiosis .

My advice? Don’t hesitate to get tested for Lyme disease if you develop the symptoms. Although the bull’s eye rash (appearing 3 days after a bite) is common, not everyone develops it. You may not notice a bite, but develop severe fatigue, joint ache, a 24-hour-a-day headache, memory loss or other symptoms.

Classic bull's eye rash does not always appear

Be advised that testing for Lyme is far from perfect: false negatives can lead doctors to ignore your symptoms. If you know you were bitten by a deer tick and develop symptoms, demand treatment even if you don’t test positive. Get a second opinion if needed.

According to the Center for Disease Control website, ticks that are attached for less than 24 hours should not transmit disease. And only half of the ticks are infected, so stay calm … and carry on!

To learn more about ticks and Lyme disease, click here to see my earlier article on this subject.

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Henry is the author of 4 gardening books. Visit his website by clicking here.  

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