Employee & Community Health

How to protect yourself from ticks

5/26/2016 by John Matulis, MD

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Southeast Minnesota is full of great opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors – trail running, mountain biking, hiking, camping, boating and fishing are just a few of the fun activities that can bring you into tick hang-outs. 

If your Memorial Day weekend plans include walks through wooded or brushy areas, make sure you follow these precautions to help reduce your risk of contracting a tick-borne illness.

Here's what you can do to protect yourself from tick bites:

Know when you're in tick habitat. Ticks love to hang out in:

  • Wooded or brushy areas for deer ticks, which are responsible for Lyme disease.
  • Grassy or wooded areas for American dog ticks

When you’re outdoors, pack and USE repellent.

  • Apply DEET-based repellents containing up to 30% DEET to clothing or skin. Reapply every few hours while you’re in tick habitat.
  • Pre-treat fabric with permethrin-based repellents to protect against tick bites for at least two weeks without reapplication. This is an excellent option for people who frequently venture into wooded or grassy areas.

Manage landscaping at the cabin or other getaway to reduce risk of tick bites. 

  • Keep lawns and trails mowed short.
  • Remove leaves and brush.
  • Create a landscape barrier of wood chips or rocks between mowed lawns and woods.
  • Apply pesticides in the spring or early summer along the edges of wooded yards and trails, being sure to follow the pesticide label instructions carefully.

Dress appropriately and do regular tick checks.

  • When outdoors tuck pants into socks or boots and add a hat. Light-colored clothing makes it easier to spot ticks before they reach the skin.
  • During a hike, use a buddy system to do tick checks every four hours.
  • Don’t forget to check gear and pets. Ticks can ride into your home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, clothes and day packs.
  • Immediately after a hike, use a mirror to do a bare-skin check. A shower at the end of a hike will remove any tick that isn’t firmly attached.  

If you’re exposed to a tick.

  • Use a tweezers to grasp the tick as close to your skin as you can, getting a grip on the tick’s head, if possible. Apply a steady upward pull until it releases its grip. Don’t twist the tick or jerk it suddenly because the head or mouth parts could break off.
  • Don’t crush the tick with the tweezers. Fluids from the tick may contain germs that cause disease. If any part of the tick remains embedded in your skin, remove it like you would a sliver. Some tiny ticks can be scraped off with the edge of a credit card.
  • Call your doctor if you develop a rash or don’t feel well within 24-48 hours after being bitten by a tick.

Dr. John Matulis joined Employee and Community Health’s (ECH) Department of Primary Care Internal Medicine (PCIM). He grew up, trained and has long enjoyed playing outside in New England, where Lyme disease first was discovered.