Ticks: My Experience and Education

In the past 4 years of taking nature walks through the woods of North Park, I have removed only 3 wood ticks from family members, pets, and myself.  However, on a recent walk with my husband and son (on a trail that we trek every summer), I was surprised to find 9 deer ticks cleverly embedded in our clothing.

Although none of the ticks latched onto our skin and left us–luckily–bite free, I decided to arm myself with an education about these little pests to better protect my family and hopefully share some insight with other hiking novices and nature lovers alike.

It is not surprising to hear murmurs and exclamations about the increase in the tick presence this summer. However, such growth is justified as the mild winter Pennsylvania experienced this past year was not harsh enough to kill off all the ticks–allowing them to flourish. And while I (like most other Pittsburghers) rejoice at the thought of a mild winter, there is a price to pay for everything, in this case a summer plagued by disease carrying nuisances.

In terms of the consequences of tick bites, some major illnesses these little pests pass on include Lyme Disease, tick paralysis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.  But before I get ahead of myself some of the most important questions to answer include: “What does a tick look like?”, “How can I avoid getting bit”, and “What do I do if I get bit?”.

In terms of what a tick looks like, they are typically small, flat, and oval with black bodies and small heads that are barely visible to the naked eye–although sizing varies slightly depending on its developmental stage. While the tick problem is rampant as of late, it is extremely difficult to spot them outside, as they are typically attached to animals and hidden in brush. Nevertheless, a tick that is attached will typically become engorged with blood, but stays a black/ deep brown color. Check our Tick Encyclopedia for more information and images.

To avoid getting bit it is best to wear long pants and shirts if you plan on hiking/walking in a heavily wooded area–as that is where ticks typically reside. Long hair should be pulled up to lessen the chances of these little pests climbing into tresses and embedding in your scalp. Additionally, it is a good idea to shower and do a tick check after any outdoor activity.

Finally, if you have been bitten, it is crucial to remove the tick as soon as possible–as it takes 24-48 hours for the tick to spread disease. Although there is not one “right way” to remove the bug, it is important to remove the whole bug–making sure no part of the head is still embedded in the skin. Whether you are using tweezers, a tick remover, or another method, the bite should be treated with rubbing alcohol to avoid infection.

Calling the doctor is also highly recommended. As stated previously, the longer time a tick remains attached, the greater chance of succumbing to illnesses such as Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, so it is a good idea to get checked out by a professional. Remarkably, there is a vaccine that prevents the onset of Lyme Disease when bitten by a deer tick.

As the saying goes “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. By educating myself and spreading the word, people are less likely to get bitten and suffer the irritating and even life threatening consequences of a tick bite. And if a bite occurs, it is important to know the protocol to stop illness in its tracks.

Popular Pittsburgh Tick Encyclopedia

Below is a depiction of the various types of ticks found in Pennsylvania at the varying stages in their life-cycle. (Source: tickencounter.org)

Black-legged (Deer) Ticks: These pests are typically found where there is a highly concentrated population of white-tailed deer, making Pennsylvania a prime location. For individuals who find a deer tick attached to themselves, it is important to remove it immediately as they can carry Lyme disease, Babesiosis, and Anaplasmosis.

American Dog Ticks: These ticks are found in areas with little or no trees or covering vegetation, including grassy fields, trails, and even sidewalks. Their prey includes mice, deer, but can easily spread to humans. The most dangerous disease they carry includes Rock Mountain Fever.

Brown Dog Ticks: While Brown Dog Ticks are most commonly found in the southern United States, they have been found world-wide and in many different environments. It is important to be aware of this tick in particular as it transmits Rocky Mountain Spouted Fever primarily to dogs and rarely to humans

Rocky Mountain Wood Ticks:Found primarily in shrub lands, wooded areas and open, grassy areas, Rocky Mountain Wood Ticks are fairly common and can transmit both Colorado tick fever and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever  to humans and animals. A tick afflicted with the latter illness actually contains a neuro-toxin in its saliva that causes paralysis in its victim. Luckily, within 24-72 hours after tick removal, the paralysis usually reverses itself.

By Leah Segal and Bethany Kane

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