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Safe Tick Control

Ticks bite, feed on blood, and sometimes carry debilitating diseases; but don’t panic! Try some of the effective pesticide-free techniques instead:

Avoid Tick-infested Areas

Ticks require host animals in order to survive and reproduce. They cannot fly or jump, but only crawl slowly, so they like to climb up onto vegetation and wait for hosts to brush up against them. So avoid woodsy or overgrown areas where ticks' hosts such as mice and deer, live. Or try to stay in the middle of trails to avoid brushing up against the vegetation.

Flagging

One way that you can tell if an area is infested with ticks is by flagging. Flagging is done by dragging a white cloth over dense, low-level vegetation. Ticks that are looking for passing hosts will grab onto the cloth thinking that it's a host.

Dress Appropriately

Wearing lighter colors that fit tightly around your wrists, ankles, and waist will help you to easily spot ticks that may be on you. Tuck your shirt into your pants, and your pants in your socks. Wear a hat and long-sleeved shirt.

Tick Checks

A tick can be hard to notice, so you should perform tick checks on yourself, your kids, and your pets after you have been in tick habitat. It's always a good idea to take a shower as well. Drying your clothes in a hot dryer kills ticks.  If you find a tick, it needs to be removed right away.

Pets and Ticks

  • Pets that go outside are more likely to return home with guests than pets that stay inside. If you have pets in an area where ticks are common, you should groom them when they come in from being outside. Designate sleeping areas for your pets, and check routinely for ticks that have dropped off of them while they were sleeping. Keep pets off furniture because ticks can hide in upholstery or cushions.
  • If your pet have ticks remove visible ones and dust Diatomaceous Earth on coats and rub in. Will not harm pets licking their fur. Diatomaceous Earth (tiny fossilized shells of marine plants) does not poison animals, and simply dehydrates fleas and ticks that come in contact with it within 72 hours. These diatoms have the look and feel of talcum powder. It is safe for children and pets and will not harm earthworms. However, to insects, this powder has razor sharp edges that cuts through the protective covering and enters the body. Ultimately, Diatomaceous Earth works by dehydration. The diatom is composed mostly of air, making it ideal for liquid absorption. You can sprinkle on counters, under cabinets, under foundation, and wherever your pet sleeps.

Repellents

DEET, a pesticide commonly use to repel ticks causes a number of adverse effects to the nervous system. (See http://www.pesticide.org/DEET.pdf.)

Botanical repellents contain such ingredients as soybean oil, geranium oil, and oil of peppermint. One of the most effectives is Bite Blocker Outdoor Extreme. It protected against culex mosquitoes and ticks for about 2 hours. Geraniol is effective against ticks according to research conducted at the University of Florida. For more information see http://www.pesticide.org/repellents.pdf. Another 100% DEET free insect repellent is Herbal Armor (contains essential oils), rated "Best gear of the year" by National Geographic.

Modify your Landscape

If ticks are a problem in your yard consider the following ideas:
  • Increase areas of open lawn.
  • Keep your lawn mowed to a height of  3 inches.
  • Get rid of brush, weeds, leaf litter, and other debris.
  • If your yard borders a wooded area, rake up leaf litter and cut down underbrush for several feet into the woods.
  • Eliminate densely planted beds near your house.
  • Keep picnic tables, lawn furniture, and children's play areas as far away as possible from woods, shrubs, and undergrowth.
  • Use wood chips or gravel to create a barrier between wooded areas where ticks are common and your lawn.
  • Move woodpiles, bird feeders, and birdbaths as far from your home as possible. Mice and chipmunks are hosts for ticks.
  • Deer are also a host for ticks, so avoid putting plants in your yard that deer love to eat. 
  • Consider fencing to keep out larger animals if necessary and don't feed wild animals in your yard.

If you have a tick infestation

  • You can dust your house with boric acid. But Boric Acid is toxic by mouth, so keep away from children and pets. Diatomaceous earth is a safe alternative. Rake it into the carpet and be sure the dust gets into corners of any uncarpeted floors. Leave it down as long as you can stand it (maybe a week). Then sweep up as much as you can.
  • In the yard the ticks live in the ground during the winter and in the shrubs or wood the rest of the year. During the winter you can spray the soil and mulch with beneficial nematodes to kill them in the ground. At this time of year you can spray the grass, wood, and shrubs with spinosad. Green Light makes an organic product with spinosad.
  • You can use a natural insecticide composed of a blend of nontoxic but effective plant oils, including oil of wintergreen, rosemary oil, and peppermint oil. Although these essential oils are nontoxic, they can still cause skin and eye irritation, so follow manufacturer’s directions.

Diseases Carried by Ticks

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection which is transmitted through the bite of an infected black-legged tick (in eastern United States). It takes an infected tick between 36 and 48 hours of attachment to transmit Lyme disease to humans. Not all ticks are infected with the disease.

Larval ticks are not born infected, they cannot transmit Lyme disease to animal or human hosts. Ticks become infected with the Lyme disease bacterium by feeding on infected animals, such as mice, chipmunks, and birds. Lyme disease is passed to humans and other animals when a tick infected with the bacterium bites the person or animal and stays attached long enough (usually more than 36 hours) to take a blood meal (American Lyme Disease Foundation)

The tick that spreads Lyme disease has a 2-year life cycle, and feeds once in each of its three life stages -larvae, nymph, and adult. In the tick's larvae stage, it is tan, the size of a pinhead, and feeds on small animals like mice. During the nymph stage, the tick is the size of a poppy seed, beige or partially transparent, and feeds on larger animals such as cats, dogs, and humans. Adult ticks are black and/or reddish and feed on large mammals such as deer, dogs, and humans.

If you have a tick bite observe the area where the tick was removed. If you develop a reddened patch 2 inches in diameter that spreads, you could have Lyme Disease. Contact your healthcare provider. Other early symptoms include fever, joint pain or flu-like symptoms. Most healthcare providers do not prescribe antibiotics to treat Lyme Disease unless you show symptoms.

How to remove a tick safely

  1. Use tweezers or disposable gloves to handle the tick. If fingers must be used shield them with a paper towel or tissue.
  2. Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible. This reduces the possibility of the head separating from the rest of the body when being removed.
  3. Pull the tick straight out with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk because you may break the tick, leaving the mouthparts in the skin.
  4. After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite site. Do not apply Vaseline, a hot match, or grease to the rear of the tick. These actions can cause the tick to salivate while still in your skin, which can increase the likelihood of contracting a disease.
  5. Put the tick in a sealed container, tick testing can be a useful aid in deciding whether or not to treat in the absence of disease symptoms. Remember, that just because the tick is positive does not mean that the pathogen was transmitted.

Conclusion

To reduce tick problems, wear appropriate clothes in tick-infested areas. Check yourself carefully for ticks after you've been in tick habitat. You can also make your yard less attractive to ticks and their hosts.

References

  1. Stafford, K.C. 2004. Tick management handbook. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Revised edition (2007) available at: http://www.ct.gov/caes/lib/caes/documents/publications/bulletins/b1010.pdf http://www.ct.gov/caes/lib/caes/documents/publications/bulletins/b1010.pdf
  2. Parsons, G.L. and P.A. Rossignol. 1989. Identifying adult hard ticks commonly found on humans in Oregon. Oregon State Univ. Extension Service. http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/html/em/em8410-e/
  3. Univ. of California. 2000. Lyme disease in California. Pest Notes Publ. 7485. http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7485.html
  4.  Montana State Univ. Extension Service. 2001. Tick-borne diseases in Montana. http://Scarab.msu.montana.edu/YardGarden/docs/ticks-insect.htm
  5.  U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine. 2003. Just the facts ... tick control around the home. http://chppm-www.apgea.army.mil/ento/facts/TickControlAroundTheHome.pdf
  6. National Park Service. 2003. Integrated pest management manual: Ticks. http://www.nature.nps.gov/biology/ipm/manual/ticks.htm
  7. American Red Cross. Undated. Health and safety tips: Ticks and Lyme disease. http://www.redcross.org/services/hss/tips/ticks.html
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2005. Tick tips. http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/ticktips2005/
  9. University of Washington, Seattle. 2004. Lyme disease. http://www.orthop.washington.edu/uw/lymedisease/tabID__3376/ItemID__39/PageID__1/Articles/Default.aspx
  10. Univ. of Florida. 1999. UF entomologist develops safe, effective alternative to DEET insect repellents. http://www.napa.ufl.edu/99news/nodeet.htm
  11.  Stafford, K.C. 2004. Tick management handbook. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Revised edition (2007) available at: http://www.ct.gov/caes/lib/caes/documents/publications/bulletins/b1010.pdf http://www.ct.gov/caes/lib/caes/documents/publications/bulletins/b1010.pdf 
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2005. Tick tips. http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/ticktips2005/


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