Preventing tick bites prevents serious diseases

By Ellen Stromdahl, Entomologist, U.S. Army Public Health CommandFebruary 28, 2013

Ticks are better at finding you than you are at finding them. Ticks must have a blood meal (you) to live. They are aware of you, so, in order to prevent tick bites, you must learn to be aware of them!

Ticks in the United States can carry many diseases including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, viral diseases and others. But most ticks are not infected with human diseases, and infected ticks have to attach to you and remain on you for a long period of time (one to three days) in order to transmit most diseases, including Lyme. If you prevent tick bites, or remove attached ticks promptly, you can prevent tick-borne disease:


1. Recognize tick habitat. Ticks stay in, or on the edge of, shady, brushy areas. They must stay in a moist microclimate or die. Dry environments kill ticks. You won't encounter them in a well-mowed lawn or a bright sunny location; they need layered shade and moist air.

2. Use repellent. For maximum protection, use DEET repellent on your skin, and permethrin repellent on your clothing. Permethrin-treated clothing is the best defense against tick bites. When ticks touch the treated fabric, they try to get away as quickly as possible. If they stay on the treated fabric, they die. Look for permethrin clothing spray in hunting sections of stores (use according to the label), or buy permethrin-treated clothing, which is available from major outdoor clothing suppliers.

3. Check your belongings. Ticks can come home with you on your shoes and clothes. If you have been in tick habitat, leave your shoes outside and don't leave your clothes near your bed. You'll be giving ticks the whole night to find you. Ticks may survive on clothes in the washing machine, but a cycle (hot) in the dryer will kill ticks.

4. Know tick seasonality. Just as you can learn where to expect ticks, you can learn when to expect a species or life stage. Spring and summer are the periods of peak tick activity, but the adult stage of the blacklegged or deer tick occurs on winter days when the temperature is above freezing. Different species are present in different regions of the U.S., and tick seasonality will likewise be different in different regions.

5. Check yourself for ticks. If you've been in tick habitat in tick season, check for ticks. Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.

6. Remove ticks promptly. Remove with tweezers; no burning or soap, gasoline, Vaseline, or other chemicals. Wash and apply antibiotic ointment to the bite. Most tick bites cause irritation and itching immediately; this does not indicate disease transmission. Rashes that are symptoms of diseases like Lyme disease appear two to three weeks after the tick bite.

7. Save the tick for id and testing. Military personnel and Department of Defense civilians should take the tick to their military medical treatment facility for pathogen testing by the U.S. Army Public Health Command's DOD Human Tick Test Kit Program.

Related Links:

Environmental Protection Agency

U.S. Army Public Health Command's DOD Human Tick Test Kit Program

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Physician's Reference Manual from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health