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Tick Prevention Worth the Effort

American Dog Tick
American Dog Tick photo by John Flannery

Tick bites can transmit pathogens that cause a multitude of diseases – some debilitating – so it’s best to avoid bites.

Nebraska is host to the American dog (wood) tick, lone star tick, and brown dog (or kennel tick, which survives indoors) tick. A fourth, the Rocky Mountain wood tick, may be found in extreme northwest Nebraska. Typically ticks are most active April through September, found in wooded or shrubby areas, and along tree lines and hiking trails. Rarely do they inhabit dry pastures and cornfields.

Ticks wait for their hosts with their front legs extended in a “questing” position, latch on, and climb upward toward thin-skinned areas. They may attach  to the head, ears, waist, behind the knee and groin areas; undisturbed, they can embed themselves for up to a week or more. Clothing can make it more difficult for ticks to get to a suitable site to attach to a feeding site. Wear long pants tucked into socks, and long-sleeved shirt. Light-colored clothing is best, as ticks will show up better.

Chemical barriers include commercial products containing diethyl toluamide (DEET) or permethrins. An insect repellent containing 20 percent to 30 percent DEET can be applied to clothing and areas of exposed skin such as hands, wrists, ankles, and neck. Always follow label directions.

Products containing 0.5 percent permethrin may be used to treat clothing and boots, repelling ticks for up to six washings. Ticks can survive the wash cycle -- but not 30 minutes in the dryer. Purchasing pre-treated permethrin clothing can repel insects for up to 70 or more washings.

Disease and Tick Removal

Tick bites can subsequently lead to disease, paralysis, or even death. For a list of 15 tick-borne diseases provided by the Centers for Disease Control, see Tick Diseases of the United States.

In Nebraska, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) usually has 10 or fewer cases reported annually, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NDHHS). Typical symptoms include fever, chills, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, fatigue, muscle pain and sometimes rash. RMSF is frequently overlooked or misdiagnosed. In 2015 in Nebraska, a death occurred after three trips to the emergency room, twice without a correct RMSF diagnosis, according to NDHHS.

Other tick-borne illnesses found in Nebraska are ehrlichiosis and tularemia. NDHHS notes four known incidents of Lyme disease occurred in 2009, all from out-of-state exposure.

dog tick bite reaction
Skin reaction to an American Dog Tick bite.

If you find a tick embedded in skin, remove it carefully to avoid it regurgitating contents into your system. Follow these steps:

  1. Use fine-tipped, pointed tweezers.
  2. Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible and pull straight outward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this may cause its mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin.
  3. Do not squeeze, crush, burn or puncture the body of the tick because its fluids (i.e., saliva, gut contents) may contain infectious organisms.
  4. After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite site and wash hands with soap and water., save the tick in alcohol for possible later identification. If flu-like symptoms occur, see a physician. Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, and ehrlichiosis are treatable with antibiotics if caught early.

For a more detailed resource, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for symptoms of tick bites, diseases, and types of ticks found nationwide - Ticks. A CDC Tick Management Handbook is also available.

Image of Clyde Ogg
Clyde Ogg
Extension Educator, Pesticide Safety Education Program

Clyde Ogg works diligently to develop a comprehensive statewide educational program of excellence in Pesticide Safety Education Programs including Integrated Pest Management. He develops, organizes and enhances pesticide safety and IPM educational programs for professional pesticide applicators, both private and commercial. He also helps create safer home and school environments by promoting IPM and the adoption of least-toxic pest management practices.

Clyde is located at:
University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Department of Agronomy & Horticulture
Plant Science 377F
Lincoln NE 68583