By Christina VanGinkel
If I had any nagging doubts that spring had yet to arrive here in the Midwest, even though the calendar clearly stated it had, and the mercury surely wanted us to think so, my doubts have all but disappeared. The answer is both simple and the one thing I dislike about spring here in our part of the country more than any other fact of spending time outdoors. The wood ticks have emerged!
Wood ticks carry diseases, and while for many decades the ticks here in the Midwest were considered a nuisance but hardly a serious one, that changed with the spread of Lyme Disease. It was also once believed that in order to have ticks be a problem, you had to get out in the woods. I do not know if that was ever true, but it surely is not now. I have walked no further from my porch steps to my first bed of flowers about two feet away, and realized that I had a tick or two on my self. Our dogs are prone to finding ticks no matter whether they have spent the morning romping in the woods or lazing serenely in their coops. Ticks are everywhere, in the woods, and in our gardens and yards.
Our dogs are treated each year with a vaccine that helps in the prevention of Lyme's Disease, but so far, we humans have no concrete vaccine to depend on. One was available for some time during the late 1990's and early in 2000-2001 I believe, (I could be a bit off on the period), but it was subsequently removed from the market, while the vaccine for the dogs and other animals was left available. In the end, there is yet to be a suitable vaccine to replace it.
Ticks are everything from a nuisance to a serious health threat, yet unless we hide indoors at the first sign of spring, there is no way to be completely safe from them, so being diligent about finding them and removing them properly from ourselves and the young children in our lives is a daily task that we must never be lax about. If you ask your local physician for a tick identification chart, you will at least be aware of both the ticks appearance and size. For all the years that I lived and played in the outdoors, and all of the ticks that I removed from both myself and my kids, I was not prepared the first time I saw a true to scale picture of the tick that carries the Lyme Disease. It was no bigger than a speck of sand, and I wondered just how in the world I would ever be able to find one. Not long after, I did, and it scared the heck out of me. It was embedded in the side of my own leg. It was so tiny, that without having known what it was I was looking for, I would never have discovered it.
When outdoors in tick infested areas, there are steps you can do to keep yourself alert to, and safe from, the tick population:
Use a safe bug repellant. While most will not repel all of the ticks, most do seem to cut back on the numbers. If using one with DEET, be sure to wash it off when coming in from the outdoors, and avoid its use at all on your children.
Wear light colored clothing, so seeing a tick if it lands on you is as easy as possible.
Wear tight cuffs when possible to keep the ticks from getting up under your clothing. Tucking in pant legs into your boots is another viable option.
Avoid tall grasses when possible, but know that they can be in any outdoor area, even mown grass.
Always be vigilant about checking yourself, children, and pets for ticks each time you have been outdoors. We are outside so often, and with woods and fields surrounding us, we at least try to check for ticks each time we have been outside for any length of time, and are sure to check carefully before retiring for the night.
For the safest method to remove a tick if one does become embedded beneath the skin, check with your physician before the need arises. I have heard many different scenarios, but we usually just pull them off with a tweezers or by hand, and then treat the area with an alcohol swab. To dispose of any tick we find we burn it in an ashtray with a match, while I know some people will drown them in a container of rubbing alcohol they keep for such a purpose.