The loathsome deer tick, also known as the black-legged tick, is defined more by the disease it spreads than by its own characteristics. Deer ticks, a name that came about due to its habit of parasitizing white-tailed deer, are transmitters or vectors for Lyme disease microbes that they acquire by feeding on infected mice and rodents. Lyme disease, if untreated can cause a variety of health issues including facial paralysis, heart palpitations, arthritis, severe headaches, and neurological disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme disease is currently one of the fastest-growing and most commonly reported vector-borne diseases in the United States. More than 14,000 cases are reported annually, but because the symptoms so closely resemble the flu and usually go away without treatment, scientists estimate as many as nine out of every ten cases go unreported.
Deer ticks are small and easy to miss especially if they attached themselves to a hairy pet or somewhere hard to reach or see on a human such as the top of your head or back. They are commonly found in tall grass and wooded areas inhibited by large animals, such as deer.
To minimize your interactions with ticks, move children’s play area away from wooded areas and place on wood chips or sand, place mulch in planting beds around your house, trim branches and shrubs to let in light and air, fence off ornamental plant and vegetable gardens to reduce interactions with deer carrying ticks and avoid creating conditions that ticks favor such as ground covers, leaf litter, and dark humid, places.
To avoid ticks, stay in the middle of the trail while hiking and stay out of wooded and tall grassy areas when possible. Before you head out, dress in pants and a long sleeve shirt and consider tucking your pants into your socks. Also, use a tick repellant containing DEET and for prolonged outdoor activities such as camping, look for clothing and camping gear that is treated with permethrin, while always reading and following manufacturer’s directions and warning labels.
Upon returning from hiking, camping or other outdoor activities, remove clothes that were worn outside since ticks can be carried on them, be sure to do a thorough tick check from head to toe, and consider showering to reduce the risk of tick borne diseases. If you find a tick on you, be sure to remove it with tweezers using a slow, steady pull so that you don’t leave any mouthparts in your skin. Flush the tick down the toilet or tightly wrap it in a tissue or piece of tape and dispose of it in a closed garbage can. If you suspect a tick bite, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Photo: Female Deer Tick, courtesy Agricultural Research Service.