The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Identifying Ticks and How to Prevent Them

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Things just seem to follow me home-cats, dogs . . . plants. Or at least that's what I tell my husband. Last weekend I had an unwelcome hitchhiker from my walk in the woods–a tick.

Ticks feed on the fluids of animals as do spiders. The American dog tick is the most common tick found on people and pets in Illinois. These ticks are reddish brown with a silver back and are about 3/16 inch long. In Illinois, the American dog tick is most active in May and June especially in brush and tall grass areas.

The Lone Star tick is found in southern Illinois and is about 1/8 of an inch long. The brown dog tick is also about 1/8 of an inch long and attacks dogs, not people.

Deer ticks have received the most press but are rare in east central Illinois. They can be found in some of our northern counties. However if you are planning to travel this summer to Wisconsin, Michigan or eastern states of Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut be aware of deer ticks.

All three active stages of the deer tick feed on people and pets. The tiny larva (about the size of a period) feed primarily on white-footed mice. The next spring the larvae molt into pinhead-sized brown nymphs that feed on mice and larger animals such as dogs, deer, birds and people. In the fall they molt into adults that feed primarily on deer. These ticks are most common in wooded areas along trails.

Campers and others who disturb leaf litter on the forest floor are more likely to be attacked. Deer ticks are quite small and painless that makes detection difficult. An adult deer tick may look like a mole or blood blister.

Deer ticks may carry Lyme disease which can be serious if left untreated. In 75 percent of the cases a red circular rash develops at the site of the bite. Flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, nausea, and aching joints may occur and reoccur for several weeks. If not treated irregularities in heart beat, nervous system problems and arthritis may develop. Antibiotics are effective in controlling this disease especially if treatment is started early.

To protect yourself against ticks you could avoid tick infested areas. However I'm not willing to give up my walks in the woods so a few precautions are in order. Always wear long pants with the cuffs tucked into socks. Apply an insect repellent containing DEET to socks, pants and exposed skin areas. Wear a hat. Ticks have difficulty grabbing on to tightly woven slippery materials such as nylon. Wear light-colored clothing so ticks are more easily seen and removed. Periodically check each other for ticks on clothing and skin ( a whole new meaning of the buddy system). After outings, shower and shampoo and check entire body. Wash clothing immediately in hot water.

Attached ticks should be removed immediately by grasping the tick with fine tipped tweezers where the head enters the skin. Pull the tick straight out with slow steady pressure. Don't twist or squeeze it. Do not handle ticks with bare fingers. Wear gloves or at least use a tissue and wash hands thoroughly. Wash the bite area with soap and water and apply an antiseptic.

Forget home remedies for tick removal–gasoline, petroleum jelly, kerosene or a hot match. These have not been shown to be effective and may actually increase your chance of becoming infected from the tick. Save the tick in a jar of alcohol if you are not sure what kind it is. Consult your physician if any symptoms appear. Consult with your veterinarian about tick prevention for pets.

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