How to prevent tick bites

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As we head into summer, the rise in humidity and temperature creates an ideal environment for ticks to thrive in.1 In fact, warmer weather is associated with an increased risk of infections caused by ticks, specifically Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tick-borne encephalitis.1 As a result, it is important to learn about how to prevent tick bites and tick-related diseases before travelling or spending time outdoors.

What are ticks?

Ticks are bloodsucking arthropods that feed on various types of hosts such as humans and other mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.2 Although they are arachnids, ticks can be further classified as either hard ticks that belong to the Ixodidae family or soft ticks that belong to the Argasidae family.3 Ticks are primarily distributed in tropical and subtropical regions, however they can be found all around the world – even in your backyard.2

How do ticks find and bite a host?

While ticks require blood meals to survive, grow and reproduce, they spend a relatively short period of time on hosts.2 Despite this, ticks are capable of damaging the skin as well as transmitting pathogenic organisms that can cause infections and disease.2

Ticks select the right host based on factors such as body heat, odour and movement.1 This is referred to as questing.1 Then, ticks attach to the host’s skin or fur and bite to begin drawing in blood.2 Once ticks are satisfied, they will withdraw and drop off the host.1 Unfortunately, during the time that they are feeding, ticks can transfer harmful pathogens such as protozoa, viruses, and bacteria to the host.2 In addition to causing infections, paralysis and allergic reactions may occur.2

How can you prevent tick bites?

If you are living or travelling in an area where ticks are commonly found, prevention is key. To prevent tick bites, the following methods may work:

  • Look for ticks every 2-3 hours if spending the day outdoors.3
  • Wear protective clothing. Ensure that shirts are tucked into pants and that pants are tucked into socks.3
  • Use tick repellants. Chemical repellants containing lemon eucalyptus oil are proven to be effective in warding off ticks.3
  • Educate yourself and your family before travelling to a high-risk area to understand the dangers.3

If a tick is found on your body, prompt removal using fine-tipped forceps can significantly help reduce the risk of contracting a tick-borne disease.3 Any and all symptoms should be reported to healthcare providers to obtain a diagnosis and treatment, if possible.3 Some of the common symptoms experienced by those bitten by ticks include a rash, facial palsy, headache, heart palpitations, and joint pain.3

To learn more about how to prevent tick bites and infections, please consult your healthcare provider.

References

1.        Süss J, Klaus C, Gerstengarbe FW, Werner PC. What makes ticks tick? Climate change, ticks, and tick-borne diseases. J Travel Med. 2008;15(1):39-45. doi:10.1111/j.1708-8305.2007.00176.x

2.        Anderson JF, Magnarelli LA. Biology of Ticks. Infect Dis Clin North Am. 2008;22(2):195-215. doi:10.1016/j.idc.2007.12.006

3.        Due C, Fox W, Medlock JM, Pietzsch M, Logan JG. Tick bite prevention and tick removal. BMJ. 2013;347:29-32. doi:10.1136/bmj.f7123

Photo by Gustavo Fring at Pexels

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