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Always check for ticks after outdoor summer activities
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Ticks are on the long list of things in Mississippi that make a person itch in summertime, and they are very unpleasant for a variety of reasons.
Blake Layton, entomologist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said there are 19 kinds of ticks that call Mississippi home. Due to its long mouthparts, the bite of the Gulf Coast tick may be the most irritating.
“The bites of this tick can cause permanent deformities in the ears of grazing animals such as cattle and goats, causing a condition known as ‘gotched ear,’” Layton said.
Gulf Coast ticks occur throughout the state and northwards to Missouri, Kentucky and Virginia. In Mississippi, most people encounter them outdoors from late spring through fall. The adults are most common in July and August.
Tick bites are irritating and can cause itching, which is often how people discover a tick has attached to them as a host. But if ticks are not found and removed promptly, they can transmit disease.
“Gulf Coast ticks can carry a disease that causes an area of dead, blackened tissue at the site of a bite, in addition to carrying a mild form of Rocky Mountain spotted fever,” Layton said.
The life cycle of ticks occurs in stages, and humans and pets are an important food source.
“The Gulf Coast tick is a three-host tick, which means each life stage feeds on a different host,” he said. “Newly hatched, six-legged larvae usually feed on a bird or small mammal, and then drop to the ground full of blood to molt.”
Layton said the resulting nymphs feed again on birds or small mammals, dropping to the ground again to molt into adults.
“Adults prefer larger mammals such as cattle, deer, dogs or people,” he said.
These ticks mate on their hosts, and fattened females drop to the ground to lay eggs.
The best way to avoid any type of tick is to stay out of the woods and weeds and on beaten paths. Avoid areas where tick hosts such as cattle and deer spend most of their time.
When these areas are unavoidable, take precautions ahead of time. Wear high-topped boots and long pants tucked inside the boots. Tuck shirts into pants, and spray exposed skin with a DEET-based repellant. Spray boots and clothes with a permethrin-based product, but do not apply this chemical directly to skin.
“Shower and check for ticks as soon as possible after outdoor activity, and promptly remove any ticks found,” Layton said. “Wash clothes in hot, soapy water immediately so any hungry ticks carried on the clothing do not wander around the house.”
Jerome Goddard, Extension entomologist, said ticks are often found on the scalp, but they can attach to almost any part of the body.
“The best way to remove a tick is to use tweezers to grab the thing as close as possible to the ‘head’ and pull it straight off,” Goddard said. “It is not recommended to coat attached ticks with various chemical substances or touch hot matches to them.”
He said people should not worry about leaving part of the tick embedded in the skin after tick removal.
“If that happens, it would be no worse than having a thorn or brier stuck in the skin, but if you can scrape or otherwise remove the mouthparts, that is good,” Goddard said.
Less than 40 percent of ticks are infected with disease agents, he said. Even if one is infected, a person can prevent disease transmission by promptly removing the tick.
“Research has shown that ticks need about 36 hours to transmit the agent of Lyme disease, about 3 hours to transmit the agent of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and only about 15 minutes to transmit certain viruses,” Goddard said. “That is why one needs to find and remove attached ticks as soon as possible.”
A final precaution to take against ticks is to minimize tick habitat around houses and in wooded areas that are used by their animal hosts.
“Keep grass mown and maintain weed-free walking trails through wooded areas,” Layton said. “Fence yards to keep out large, feral animals, and regularly treat pets with effective tick prevention treatments. This is extremely important for those who live in rural settings and have free-roaming dogs or cats.”
To control ticks in home landscapes, use broadcast sprays containing active ingredients such as bifenthrin or permethrin. Sprays are better than granules, as granules will drop to the ground below the area where ticks are waiting to find a host.
Find more information on tick control in Extension Publication 2331, “Control of Insect Pests in and Around the Home Lawn” at https://bit.ly/2tKFE2D.