Employee & Community Health

Ticks 101

5/17/2018 by Dr. John Matulis


It's spring, and after our long winter, we're all eager to enjoy the great outdoors — trail running, mountain biking, hiking, camping, boating, fishing, picnicking. Unfortunately, ticks like to hang out in many of the same places as we. Study up on how 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 repellents containing up to 30% DEET to clothing or skin. Reapply every few hours while you're in tick areas. 
  • Pre-treat boots, socks, tents and clothes with the repellent permethrin. This long-lasting protection 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 and attach to a person later.
  • Immediately after a hike, take a shower, then do a head-to-toe check for ticks, including under arms, belly button, behind knees and between legs. A mirror is a big help when doing self-checks.

If you're exposed to a tick.

  • Avoid folklore remedies such as "painting" the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible — not waiting for it to detach. 
  • 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. Steadily pull upward 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 is a physician in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Internal Medicine (CIM). He grew up, trained and has long enjoyed playing outside in New England, where Lyme disease first was discovered.