Ticks are one of those pests that most people don't understand why they exist. To many, they seem to be the personification of the word "pest." But ticks are an important part of an eco-system in that they are a food source for many animals like reptiles, amphibians, and birds. They also help to control the wildlife population in many areas. But for people and many times, their pets, ticks are nothing but a tiny, dangerous nuisance that can cause irreparable damage.
Often times a tick bite happens to a person or a pet while they are outside in heavily wooded areas. Many tick bites are harmless, and simply removing the tick (with the head intact) within 24 hours of the bite will be enough to prevent disease. But up to 50% of ticks in an area can be infected with a harmful disease that can cause serious illness or even death if not treated appropriately. The Centers for Disease Control notes that there are several diseases that can be transferred to humans via a tick bite including:
- Anaplasmosis is transmitted to humans by tick bites primarily from the black-legged tick in the northeastern and upper midwestern U.S. and the western black-legged tick along the Pacific coast.
- Babesiosis Most human cases of babesiosis in the U.S. is transmitted by the black-legged tick and is found primarily in the northeast and upper midwest.
- Borrelia mayonii infection has recently been described as a cause of illness in the upper midwestern United States. It has been found in black-legged ticks in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
- Borrelia miyamotoi infection has recently been described as a cause of illness in the U.S. It is transmitted by the black-legged tick sand has a range similar to that of Lyme disease.
- Bourbon virus infection has been identified in a limited number of patients in the Midwest and the southern United States.
- Colorado tick fever is caused by a virus transmitted by the Rocky Mountain wood tick. It occurs in the Rocky Mountain states at elevations of 4,000 to 10,500 feet.
- Ehrlichiosis is transmitted to humans by the lone star tick, found primarily in the southcentral and eastern U.S.
- Heartland virus cases have been identified in the Midwestern and southern United States. Studies suggest that Lone Star ticks can transmit the virus.
- Lyme disease is transmitted by the black-legged tick in the northeastern U.S. and upper midwestern U.S. and the western black-legged tick along the Pacific coast.
- Powassan disease is transmitted by the black-legged tick and the groundhog tick. Cases have been reported primarily from northeastern states and the Great Lakes region.
- Rickettsia parkeririckettsiosis is transmitted to humans by the Gulf Coast tick.
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is transmitted by the American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, and the brown dog tick in the U.S. The brown dog tick and other tick species are associated with RMSF in Central and South America.
- STARI (Southern tick-associated rash illness) is transmitted via bites from the lone star tick, found in the southeastern and eastern U.S.
- Tickborne relapsing fever (TBRF) is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected soft ticks. TBRF has been reported in 15 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming and is associated with sleeping in rustic cabins and vacation homes.
- Tularemia is transmitted to humans by the dog tick (, the wood tick, and the lone star tick. Tularemia occurs throughout the U.S.
- 364D rickettsiosis is transmitted to humans by the Pacific Coast tick. This is a new disease that has been found in California.
Kenley had been admitted to the local ER twice, diagnosed with strep throat and was released. However, she returned a third time experiencing a 104 degree fever that wouldn't break.
On her third admittance, she received antibiotics and doctors recorded symptoms including a brain infection, swollen hands, and rashes spreading over her body.
Related: 5 Natural Bug Repellents That Actually Work!
Media outlets around the country have reported an increase in tick populations across the U.S. This is of particular concern since ticks carry a variety of diseases that can cause a host of serious medical issues, especially if they remain undiagnosed or untreated.
These pesky, blood-sucking insects function mainly by a sense of smell. They crawl to the top of a tall plant and wait, front legs waving in the air. These legs are equipped with Haller's organs, which alert the tick to prey by assessing smell, temperature, and movement. This behavior is called questing. They wait until they smell prey and when they sense blood, they latch on with their front legs and crawl until they find a spot to latch onto and bite.
Awareness of tick habitats and behavior can reduce the risks of becoming bitten.
Natural Approaches to Tick Prevention
Short of staying indoors, this summer, parents should keep tick prevention in the front of their minds. While ticks are common in parks and forests, they are also showing up in regularly-mowed and maintained backyards. While the CDC recommends using a tick repellent that contains at least 20% DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on skin, some parents opt for more natural options.
Here are 8 great tips to combat ticks naturally.
1. Remove tick habitats in the yard.
Ticks prefer overgrown areas that provide refuge from the summer heat. Keep grass short and remove any brush of leaf litter; if you border a woodland area, mulch on your side of the boundary preferably with cedar woodchips. Don't be fooled, though...one day of 32 degrees or higher, and they can be out!
2. When outside, wear light-weight long sleeves and pants.
This will deter ticks from finding skin areas to latch onto. Additionally, wear light-colored clothing so ticks are easier to spot and remove.
3. Remain on trails or paths when in the woods.
Avoid wooded areas with tall grasses or extensive leaf litter. While ticks climb to the height of tall grasses, they can also use their back legs to jump.
Related: Just Say No to Neurotoxins: There's a Safer Way to Keep Bugs at Bay
4. Use a lint roller.
Roll it over clothes before coming indoors to capture ticks that may be crawling on clothing.
5. Remove clothing and tumble dry.
Tumble dry clothes on high heat at least 10 minutes to kill ticks that may have hitchhiked to your home.
6. Take a daily garlic pill.
Keep garlic pills safely out of reach of pets since garlic can be toxic to cats and dogs. This study found that ingested garlic reduced the incidents of tick bites by 21%.
7. Create a natural tick repellent with essential oils.
Use essential oils like neem, tea tree, and peppermint; dilute appropriately with a carrier oil and apply directly to the skin.
8. Plant tick-repelling plants.
These include lavender, lemongrass, pennyroyal, geranium, sage, eucalyptus, peppermint throughout your property. Bonus: most of these plants also repel mosquitos!
Remember: ticks can range in size and be as small as a pencil point. A full body check should occur anytime a family member has been outside playing or exploring. Check every inch including genital regions, belly buttons, and scalp. While tick checks may seem inconvenient, they just may save a life.