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Be on the Watch for Ticks


Jeffrey Hahn, University of Minnesota Asst. Extension Entomologist

We are well into the beginning of tick season. There are two ticks that are of particular importance to people, the American dog tick, commonly called wood tick, and blacklegged tick, formerly called deer tick. Both ticks commonly bite humans. However while the American dog tick is basically just a nuisance and essentially does not transmit disease to people, the blacklegged tick is a known vector of Lyme disease as well as human anaplasmosis (formerly known as human granulocytic ehrlichiosis) and babesiosis.

Both ticks are found in hardwood forests and fields and other grassy, weedy areas, especially along trails and paths. If you are out in areas where ticks are found, take the proper precautions to avoid them. Stick to trails when you are walking and try to avoid moving through grassy areas. Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and pants. You can maximize your protection by tucking your pants into your socks.

Photo 1: American dog tick. Jeff Hahn

Use a repellant for the most effective protection. Products that contain DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) can be applied to your clothes and exposed skin. It is not necessary to use high concentrations of DEET — there is no evidence that increased percentages are more effective. Do not use products containing more than 15% DEET on children. Another effective repellent is permethrin. Apply this repellent only to clothing. Do not overapply any repellent!

Lastly, be sure to check yourself for ticks after you have been outside in areas where ticks occur so you can promptly remove them. This is particularly important because of the risk of disease. Remember if a tick is on you but is not attached and biting, it can not transmit disease to you. Also, there is only one tick, blacklegged ticks, that can transmit disease. They not only need to be biting but they need to be attached for about 36 hours to be able to pass on disease organisms. The more quickly you discover and remove ticks, the lower your risk for contracting disease. Because ticks can be challenging to identify, be sure to have unknown ticks identified by an expert.

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