Tick Talk with Bob Oley

Hidden Dangers In the Cold Fall and Winter

Just when you were breathing a welcomed sigh of relief that the cold fall and winter weather would bring an end to the unforgiving spring and summer tick season, think again. Thanks to a protein in their bodies that works like antifreeze, ticks survive cold temperatures remarkably well, and can be found looking for a host to bite such as you whenever the temperature is above freezing and the ground is not frozen or covered with snow.


Ticks have become a year round problem from the east coast to the west coast all across the country for a variety of reasons, most important of which, there just are so many more of them out there. And though the ticks you find in the fall and winter months are somewhat different than the ones you find in spring and summer, they can make you just as sick with Lyme disease or any number of other tick-borne diseases if you are on the receiving end of their bite. In the spring and summer months, depending on which part of the country you live in, you generally have to deal with a collection of ticks including deer ticks, Western blacklegged ticks, American dog ticks, brown dog ticks, Lone Star ticks, Gulf Coast ticks, Rocky Mountain wood ticks, or Pacific Coast ticks. But come the fall and winter months, some of these tick species become inactive for a period of time (diapause) until the warmer temperatures of spring return. However, those that do remain are no less dangerous than the warmer weather ticks they took the place of in how very sick they can make you. These cold-weather ticks include the well-known deer tick if you live in the eastern two thirds of the country, and the brown dog tick, western blacklegged tick, or Pacific Coast tick if you live in the western third of the country. The only upside to this seemingly never-ending tick dilemma is that these remaining cold-weather ticks are usually the adults, and because they are bigger (about the size of a sesame seed) than the immature stages of ticks, they are somewhat more easily detected when crawling on you. The downside is, that because these adult ticks are older than the immature tick stages, they are also more likely to be carrying disease organisms in their bodies that they can pass on to you with their bite.


So how do you enjoy the great outdoors, whether as a participant or as a spectator in a recreational activity, when the reality is that when outside you have to be continually on your guard against ticks. You are likely to find ticks in substantial numbers in the woods, in leaf litter, at the transition edge (ecotone) of the woods with grassy, brush and garden areas, on and along stone walls, in brush and leaf piles, on tree stumps and logs, along hiking and walking trails, golf courses (especially in the rough), in dog parks, and high shrub and grass areas. Considering where ticks can be found, what common outdoor fall and winter activities can be assumed high-risk for tick bites? Unfortunately for us, these activities are pretty varied and can include such pursuits as yard cleanup and end-of-season gardening, raking leaves, jumping in leaf piles, playing in your own backyard, participating in sporting events like soccer and football, watching sporting events from the sidelines, picnicking in the park, camping, golfing, hunting, hiking, pumpkin picking, Christmas tree cutting, etc. Avoiding these hidden dangers is key to preventing getting bitten by a tick and becoming infected with a tick-borne disease. But if you cannot avoid these risky tick infested areas, there are certain prevention measures you can take to better protect yourself and your family.


When outdoors, it is recommended that you wear tick repellent clothing. The clothing should be treated with permethrin, an insecticide that can be purchased from most large sporting goods stores. Permethrin repels and kills ticks and has been approved by the EPA as safe for use on clothing apparel worn by both adults and children. You can treat your own clothing and footwear, or purchase pre-treated clothing with the proprietary Insect Shield label from suppliers such as: REI, LLBean, ExOfficio, Orvis, etc. Once per month you should also spray outdoor shoes, athletic gear, tennis bags, back packs, camping gear (anything that could end up on the ground outside) with permethrin to keep the ticks away. Wearing an EPA-approved insect repellent on exposed skin parts will also provide added protection, but by itself, does not work as effectively as tick repellent clothing At the end of the outdoor activity or certainly by the end of the day, you should conduct full body tick checks of yourself and family members who go outside. Be sure to check some of those places you are more likely to find ticks – those more moist parts of your body between your toes, behind your knees, in the navel, groin area, on your back, under your arms, back of neck, behind and in your ears, within body or neck skin folds, or on your scalp. You can never check too often, as ticks can be very hard to find. And if you do find a tick attached to you, safely remove it and seek the advice of your health care giver regarding treatment options as soon as possible. Time is of the essence. Save the tick, dead or alive and place it in a zip-lock bag. Different types of ticks carry different disease organisms, and there are labs in this country where the tick can be mailed which will identify the tick for you and test it to see if it is carrying pathogens which you may have been infected with. If you follow these recommendations and use good common sense when engaging in outdoor fall and winter activities, you can sidestep these hidden tick dangers and avoid becoming sick with very serious diseases such as Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections.

Choosing the Right Tick Repellent For Your Skin

Choosing just the right tick repellent for use on one’s skin to prevent getting bitten by a tick is a task not to be taken lightly.  Your health, and that of your family members, depends on it.  All tick repellents are not created equal; there are very important differences between them.  Some are made from organic compounds and contain essential oils, while others are made from synthetic chemicals. Some work for a few hours, while others work for longer periods of time. Whichever repellent you do decide on, you want to be sure it is repelling ticks for the allotted time you have set aside for the outdoor activity.

How Do Tick Repellents Work

Tick repellents applied to exposed skin, whether in liquid, cream or aerosol form, all work pretty much the same way.  The skin is the delivery system for the tick repellent.  Once the repellent is applied to the skin, the warmth of the skin and the temperature of the air cause the repellent to evaporate.  As it evaporates, it releases a vapor close to the skin’s surface that is repulsive to ticks, causing them to want to steer clear of it.  A skin repellents does not kill ticks, only repels them.  And once it is fully evaporated from your skin, it is no longer effective.  So it is essential to know how many hours the repellent is rated to effectively repel ticks before it has to be reapplied.  This information should be provided on the product label, and if not, do not purchase it.

Not All Insect Repellents Repel Ticks

There are numerous repellents on the market today that you can buy to put on your skin to repel anything from mosquitoes, to flies, to ticks.  Contrary to popular belief, a tick is not an insect like a mosquito or an ant, but an arachnid similar in anatomy to spiders and mites.  So what repellents may work to repel insects like mosquitoes will not necessarily work to repel ticks, no matter how much you apply to your skin.

In 2008 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), came out with a list of four ingredients in tick repellents that they determined were effective against ticks.  Those ingredients, which they recommended equally, included the three synthetic chemicals DEET, Picaridin, and IR3535 and the organic compound, Lemon Eucalyptus Oil.  If any of these ingredients are in your tick repellent, you can feel reasonably confident the repellent will work to repel ticks.  To be sure, check the product label, which must state that it repels ticks.  If it does not, choose another product that does.

A great source of information on tick repellents is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The EPA publishes a list of mosquito and tick repellents on their website, http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect/, which repellents they have reviewed for safety and efficacy.  The listing breaks the repellents down by product name, hourly protection time, active ingredient, company name, and EPA registration number.  Once the EPA has reviewed and signed off on a particular repellent, they will give it a registration number, which is another important piece of information you should look for on the product label.  All repellents containing chemicals have to be registered with the EPA and tested for safety and efficacy, but not all repellents containing natural products come under this same requirement.  So be careful in picking out the repellent you will be applying to your skin, and always look for that EPA registration number.

What About Homemade Natural Repellents

Using a tick repellent you make yourself from essential plant oils known to repel ticks, while somewhat appealing to the more adventuresome, is an endeavor you have to be very careful about.  There is very little published information available on the efficacy of these plant-based oils in repelling ticks, which is one of the reasons the CDC only recommended Lemon Eucalyptus Oil from the many possible plant essential oils.  Some of the more common plants and their essential oils known to repel ticks include lavender, rosemary, peppermint, citronella, sage, garlic, cedar, and lemon eucalyptus.  So if you are inclined to make your own repellent as some are, you need to ascertain from your own experience with it, how well it repels ticks, and for how many hours, before you put your health and that of your family at risk.

Safety Concerns With Tick Repellents

As with any substances applied to the skin, you have to be careful how you use it.  Young children should not be allowed to put tick repellent directly on their skin; a grown-up should apply it.  Never put tick repellents on the hands of children so they do not accidentally get it in their eyes or ingest it.  Only apply tick repellent to exposed skin and not underneath clothing.  A health care provider should be consulted prior to using any type of tick repellent on pregnant women or infants.  And if you cannot use a tick repellent when outside, you should try to avoid those areas known to harbor ticks.

Product direction on a repellent’s proper application should be followed without using more than is absolutely called for.  Once the outdoor activity is concluded, it is always recommended to thoroughly wash those areas where the repellent was applied.  And most importantly, conduct a thorough tick check of your body.

So by all means take advantage of the outdoors, whether it is in enjoying your own backyard, or golfing, hunting, hiking, playing sports, or the like.  But be forewarned that where there are ticks, and that seems to be pretty much everywhere these days, there is the very real possibility of getting bitten by a tick, and becoming infected with one or more tick-borne diseases. Any one of these diseases can make you and your family members very sick, and they can be very difficult to treat.  Taking precautions like wearing tick repellent on your skin is one of several measures available to you to reduce the chances of getting bitten by a tick.

Holiday Tick Tips

~~Quite rightfully so, the holiday season is suppose to be a fun time of the year – a festive time for enjoying all those holiday outdoor activities with family and friends.  Wanting to crash the party however, are none other than those tenacious deer ticks, which we just cannot seem to be rid of, no matter what the time of year.

Despite what you may have been given to believe that the first autumn frost kills ticks, deer ticks can be found throughout the late fall and winter months.  As long as the ground is not frozen or covered with snow and the temperature is above 32 degrees, you can expect to find them just waiting for a host to feed on.  They have a kind of antifreeze in their bodies that, even if they are frozen from time to time, allows them to come to life once thawed out.  And with the average winter temperature seemingly rising across the country, we are more likely than ever before to cross paths with these blood-sucking ticks when we least expect it.

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday has passed, some of us will soon be out with our families and friends cutting down our own Christmas trees or enjoying other festive outside activities.  If you want to reduce the risk of exposure to ticks during these activities, it would be helpful to consider taking some of the following preventive measures to protect your family and pets from tick bites this holiday season:

1. Always be aware of your surroundings and know those areas that are likely to be beset with ticks.  These areas can include your own backyard, gardens, woodlands, grassy meadows, and the like.

2. Educate yourself and your family members about ticks and try to avoid tick-infested areas wherever possible.  Know what steps to take if you find an attached tick on you, your children, or your pets.  Always save the tick, dead or alive.

3. When outside cutting your Christmas tree, consider wearing clothing and shoe wear that is treat with permethrin, a chemical which bonds to these articles, repels and kills ticks, and which can be purchased through most sporting good stores.  Always be careful to spray in a well-ventilated area like your garage or outside.

4. As strange as it may sound as something to do in the colder months, consider applying an insect repellent to your exposed skin.  The repellent must be labeled to indicate it repels ticks, otherwise do not use it.

5. After spending time outdoors, carefully check yourself and family members, as well as your pets, for ticks.  This is very critical preventive measure and is absolutely necessary.  The adult deer ticks you are likely to find this time of year are about the size of a sesame seed.  And though they are easier to spot than the smaller larval and nymph ticks you will find in the spring and summer months, they still can be easily missed if you are not vigilant.

6. When going out to the woodpile to get wood to burn in your fireplace, be especially careful for ticks.  Mice will make their nests in woodpiles, and where there are mice there are sure to be lots of ticks both on the cut wood and in the area surrounding the woodpile.

7. As soon as you get home from being outdoors, put any clothes you were wearing outside in a clothes dryer on high heat for a full 20 to 30 minutes.  This will kill any ticks wandering on your clothing before they get a chance to crawl onto you.  Please note that, despite what you may think, putting your clothes in a clothes washer on a hot water cycle does not drown or kill ticks.  Only the clothes dryer will desiccate and kill them.

8. Instead of cutting down your own tree, consider buying a tree from a retailer where you know the trees have been away from the tree farm for some days or weeks.  Keep your tree outside for a day or two before bringing it into your home.  Keep it stored on a hard surface such as a porch or driveway, and not on your lawn or garden areas where deer ticks may be found.  This time lag, from when the tree was cut to its arrival at your house, should allow for any ticks on the tree to die for want of the high humidity environment they need to survive.

9. Before setting your tree up in your house, spray the Christmas tree skirt with the same permethrin you would spray your clothing.  Let the skirt dry completely for a couple of hours before putting it down.  The treated skirt will kill any live ticks, which may fall off the tree and land on the skirt.

10. Consider spraying your tree with an insecticide to kill any ticks or other insects, which may be on the tree before bringing it into the house.  But if you do so, please be advised that this may cause the tree to dry out somewhat quicker than usual.

11. And lastly, there is always the artificial tree, which comes without the worries of ticks.

By being aware that ticks are an ever-present danger and taking a few simple precautions, you can keep your family and pets safer from ticks, and enjoy the holiday season the way you have always imagined.

Think Twice About Those Fall Activities

Once again it is fall when we look forward with eager anticipation to those outside activities that take up our weekends, whether it is raking leaves in our own backyard, watching our children play soccer, or taking hikes with our families.  Yet, if a very small but deadly tick has its way, you or your children may soon be spending more of your free time indoors rather than outdoors, too sick to care much about anything other than trying to regain the otherwise healthy lifestyle you once enjoyed.


Text Box: Adult Female Deer TickTicks are not just warm weather pests anymore, to be vigilant about in the spring and summer, but are now a yearly phenomenon.  And this time of year, as the leaves fall off the trees, you are most likely to encounter the adult deer tick waiting patiently for you to walk by while hoping to get its next blood meal from you.


Should that tick be infected with disease pathogens, those same infectious agents can be transferred to you and your children.  These disease organisms can make you very sick with a variety of possible infections including the all too familiar Lyme disease, as well as other equally frightening but lesser known diseases such as babesiosis, anaplasmosis, bartonellosis, mycoplasma, Powassan virus, and Borrelia miyamotoi (so new there is not yet a name for this Lyme like disease).




Ticks generally need two elements to survive – a high humidity environment and a host to feed on.  Without both of these, a tick just cannot survive.  Consequently, you are likely to find ticks in great abundance in the woods, in leaf litter, at the transition edge of the woods and garden areas (ecotone), on and along stone walls, in brush and leaf piles, on tree stumps and logs, along hiking and walking trails, in dog parks, and high shrub and grass areas.  These are all high humidity areas where ticks have access to the hosts they feed on including mammals, birds, lizards, and most regrettably us.


High risk activities for getting bitten by a tick include raking leaves, viewing and playing sports such as soccer and golf, hiking, gardening, yard work, playing in one’s yard, school recess and field trips, and just about any activity that places you in the tick’s domain.




When you or your children are outdoors where there are likely to be ticks, it is strongly recommended that you wear tick repellent clothing. The clothing should be treated with permethrin, an insecticide which repels and kills ticks and which has been approved by the EPA as safe for use on clothing apparel worn by both adults and children.  You can treat your own clothing and footwear, or purchase pre-treated clothing with the proprietary Insect Shield label from suppliers such as: REI, LLBean, ExOfficio, Orvis, etc.  Once per month you should also spray outdoor shoes, athletic gear, tennis bags, back packs, camping gear (anything that could end up on the ground outside) with permethrin to keep the ticks away. Wearing an EPA-approved insect repellent on exposed skin parts will also provide added protection, but by itself, does not work as effectively as tick repellent clothing


Some simple prevention measures which are highly recommended for you and your family to follow when outside include:


  1. Avoid areas where there are ticks to the maximum extent possible.  This is much easier said than done, but cannot be stressed enough.
  2. Wear clothing that is treated with permethrin.  This is one of the easiest things to do with big prevention payoffs.  Also, you should spray your outside shoe wear, backpacks, etc. with permethrin once per month.
  3. If you do not choose to treat your own clothing with permethrin (good for 6 washings), send it to be treated at the Insect Shield facility in North Carolina.  It will come back, looking the same as you sent it, but with the permethrin protection bonded to the fabric and good for more than 70 washings.
  4. Apply a tick repellent on your exposed skin.  The tick repellent must say on the container that it repels ticks and for how long.  You can buy insect repellents with chemicals such as IR3535, Picaridin, and DEET in them; or if you prefer using organics, try essential oils like Lemon Eucalyptus Oil and Cedar Oil.
  5. Keep your outside clothes outside your home.  There can be ticks on the clothing from outdoor activities.  As soon as you come in from outdoors, put your clothes in a separate hamper in the mudroom or garage if possible.  Then as soon as you can, put the clothes in the clothes dryer on high heat for 20 to 30 minutes.  The dry heat will effectively kill any ticks that may be on them.
  6. Conduct full body tick checks of family members who go outside, both when they return indoors as well as at night before they go to bed.  Be sure to check some of the areas you are more likely to find ticks – between your toes, behind your knees, in the navel, groin area, on your back, in the armpit, back of neck, behind your ears, or on your head. You can never check too often, as ticks can be very hard to find.


If you follow these recommendations and use good common sense when engaging in outdoor fall activities, you can keep you and your family safer from ticks and the diseases they carry.

Lyme Disease, Deer Ticks and Campers

Summer camp is right around the corner, and that means there are lots of details to be taken care of before your children head off to camp.  One important detail that often escapes parents’ notice is providing their children with the necessary protection against tick bites, particularly deer ticks, during their stay at camp.  Deer ticks are cesspools of disease, and they put your children at risk for Lyme disease as well as other potentially debilitating diseases such as babesiosis, anaplasmosis, bartonella, tularemia and mycoplasma.

Smart Landscaping to Outsmart Ticks at Home, Part 2

IMG 1064 mediumWhen working to protect the home and surrounding property from ticks, homeowners should deter deer from feeding on vegetation in the yard because deer are almost always infested with feeding ticks. Once fed, these ticks drop off deer wherever they happen to be, whether in flower beds or lawns.

Smart Landscaping to Outsmart Ticks at Home, Part 1

Over the next few weeks, TBDA will share a three-part series of posts exploring ways to protect homes and surrounding property from ticks through a comprehensive landscape management plan aimed at creating low-risk tick zones within commonly used areas. By reducing the tick population around the home, one can substantially minimize the likelihood that family members or friends will be bitten by a tick and contract one of many tick-borne illnesses, including Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, bartonella, or other viral infections.