Information Regarding Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases
Deer ticks/the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis), the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) and the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) are all found throughout Massachusetts. Each can carry their own complement of diseases. Anyone working in tick habitats (particularly, wood-line areas, forested areas, and landscaped areas with ground cover) should check themselves regularly for ticks while practicing preventative measures. For information about managing ticks in landscapes, among other topics, visit the Tick Management Handbook from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.
The UMass Laboratory of Medical Zoology is unable to accept samples for tick testing at this time. The UMass Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment provides a list of potential tick identification and testing alternatives here: https://ag.umass.edu/resources/tick-testing-resources.
Ways to Reduce Exposure to Ticks:
- Avoid tick habitats: when possible, take care when spending time in wooded, brushy, or grassy areas. This is not to say that these environments are to be avoided entirely, however know that in these locations, your risk of encountering a tick increases. When in these areas, take the following steps to reduce tick-associated risks:
- Use insect repellent: products containing the active ingredient DEET (N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide) may be applied directly to the skin; products containing a pyrethroid, such as permethrin, may be used on clothing. Follow all label instructions for any product used! A URI study found that individuals wearing permethrin-treated sneakers and socks were 73.6 times less likely to be bitten by a tick than those wearing untreated footwear. For more information, please visit: http://www.tickencounter.org/prevention/permethrin
- Wear protective clothing: when possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when in tick habitats. Tuck pants into socks and wear light-colored clothing to make it easier to spot any ticks trying to hitch a ride.
- Shower after outdoor activities: use this as an opportunity to do a thorough tick-check all over the body and in your hair. Check everywhere. Ticks have no reservations about violating privacy.
- Put clothes in the dryer: particularly after spending time in tick-favored habitats, place all clothing within the dryer. Ticks are prone to desiccation (drying out) and this will kill any attached to the clothing. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) suggest tumble dry on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on clothing. If the clothing is damp, additional time may be required. If the clothing needs to be washed prior to drying, use hot water. If this is not possible, tumble dry on low heat for 90 minutes or high heat for 60 minutes or until clothes are completely dry and warm following a wash. For more information, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/on_people.html
- For additional detail about these steps, please visit: http://www.tickencounter.org/prevention/protect_yourself
How to Properly Remove an Attached Tick:
- Use pointed tweezers: disinfect the tweezers with rubbing alcohol as well as the area the tick is attached to.
- Grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible: place the tweezers on the tick as close to the skin where it is attached as possible.
- Pull the tick straight out, firmly: the mouthparts of the tick are perfect for gripping tightly to (and in) the skin. Therefore, they are often difficult to remove. Grasping the tick tightly, close to the skin, and pulling slowly upward with the tweezers will achieve the best results.
- Disinfect the skin: once the tick has been removed, disinfect the area again with rubbing alcohol.
- Consider visiting your physician: consider visiting your physician following a tick bite, particularly if you develop a rash, fever/chills, or aches and pains. Do not rely on a rash alone to make the determination to visit your doctor. With Lyme disease, for example, the rash (known as erythema migrans or EM) associated with this disease only occurs in 70-80% of persons infected with Lyme disease and may take 3-30 days to develop. Other tick-borne diseases can cause different rashes/symptoms: https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/symptoms.html
Please visit the following web page for step-by-step tick removal instructions, including an animated video: http://www.tickencounter.org/prevention/tick_removal
*Please note that when a tick is embedded, only the mouthpart (hypostome) is pushed into your skin. Therefore, the “head” of the tick is not ever left behind in the area where the tick was attached. There is no need to “dig out” skin around the area where the tick was attached. Again, visit the TickEncounter web page: http://www.tickencounter.org/prevention/tick_removal.
How NOT to Remove a Tick:
- “Painting” the tick: some myths about coating attached ticks with petroleum jelly or nail polish still exist. DO NOT do this. The goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible. Increased time attached to your body means an increased chance that the tick could transmit a disease. Note: depending upon the disease, the amount of time needed for transmission varies.
- Burning the tick: some myths about burning the tick with a match or other object still exist. DO NOT do this. Remove the tick with pointed tweezers. (See above instructions.)
- Freezing the tick: some myths about freezing an attached tick still exist. DO NOT do this. Again, your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible. (See above instructions.)
Further Tick-Related Resources:
Cape Cod Cooperative Extension: http://www.capecodextension.org/ticks/
Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, Video Series: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLnyke5qp-yax0gwypEmge_-hFAI1lwAEd
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/
Lyme Disease Association, Inc. (Non-Profit): https://www.lymediseaseassociation.org/
Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs: https://www.mass.gov/tick-prevention
Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/programs/id/epidemiology/ticks/
Tick Management Handbook, CT Agricultural Experiment Station: http://www.ct.gov/caes/lib/caes/documents/publications/bulletins/b1010.pdf
UMass Amherst Laboratory of Medical Zoology, Tick Testing: https://www.tickreport.com/
University of Rhode Island TickEncounter Resource Center: http://www.tickencounter.org/