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WVU Extension Service expert advises residents on reducing tick populations

Morgantown, W.Va. – There’s a lot of talk about ticks in the news and on social media this year after a milder than usual winter and increasing public attention to Lyme disease and Powassan virus. However, these parasitic pests are common in West Virginia and an integrated control approach can help homeowners protect themselves and their family.

According to Daniel Frank, West Virginia University Extension Service entomology specialist, West Virginia has three species of ticks that are frequently encountered. These include the American dog tick, the blacklegged or deer tick, and the lone star tick.

Different species can be more common depending on the habitat. The American dog tick is the most commonly encountered and can be found predominantly in grassy fields and other open areas around shrubby or woody habitats. Deer ticks prefer mixed forests and woodland edges, and lone star ticks primarily stick to dense woodland and animal nesting sites.

Just as they prefer different habitats, ticks can carry different pathogens. For instance, the American dog tick and lone star tick can be a carrier for the bacteria that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. Deer ticks are the species that may carry the pathogen that causes Lyme disease and can also transmit Powassan virus, among others.

Ticks need to feed on blood to develop on to the next stage of their lifecycle, which generally takes one to three years to complete. That’s how they come to feed on animals, including humans. Contrary to popular belief, Frank noted that ticks don’t drop from trees onto their hosts. Instead, they quest.

“Questing is when ticks wait on vegetation with their front legs stretched out waiting for a host to brush by so they can latch onto them,” said Frank. “And they’re receptive to things such as body heat, carbon dioxide from exhaling, movement and other cues. Once they sense that a host may be near, they’re more likely to quest to find a meal.”

Once they latch on, the tick can start feeding at once or travel to a less conspicuous area — such as the scalp, behind ears, under arms, behind knees and around waistbands. To avoid detection, the tick will inject a small amount of saliva that numbs the area before feeding. The saliva is what could carry the pathogens that cause disease.

Frank noted that people can take simple steps to protect themselves from tick exposure, including dressing appropriately, managing the landscape around the home and using insecticide if appropriate.

“The most important and effective method for protecting yourself from tick-borne diseases is simply checking your body regularly for ticks,” Frank said. “If you notice a tick, don’t be alarmed. Simply remove and kill it. The probability of a tick transmitting a disease-causing pathogen increases the longer an infected tick is attached — for instance in the case of Lyme disease, ticks must be attached for at least 36 to 48 hours.”

If a tick is found, remove it using thin-tipped tweezers or forceps. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull the tick upward with steady, even pressure to remove it with its mouthparts intact to reduce the chance of infection. Frank added that other methods of removal, such as using petroleum jelly or heat from matches, isn’t recommended.

When in areas where ticks are likely to be found, such as heavy woods, long grass or woodland edges, dress appropriately to make sure ticks stay on the outside of clothes and walk in the center of trails to avoid brushing against weeds and tall grass. Long pants tucked into socks and a shirt tucked into the pants helps make ticks easier to spot and remove before they are able to work their way inside clothing. Using a DEET-based repellent on skin and permethrin treated clothing can also provide good protection. 

According to Frank, ticks tend to favor moist, shaded areas, so keep the lawn mowed and clear of debris so that it can dry out faster during the day to discourage them around the home. Trim and prune trees to allow more sunlight in to dry the yard out faster. Additionally, move children’s play equipment away from woodland edges.  

It’s also a good idea to think about what visits your yard.

“Approximately 90 percent of adult blacklegged ticks feed on white-tailed deer,” said Frank. “Therefore, the reproductive success of these ticks and occurrence of Lyme disease is often highest where deer populations are dense.”

Frank noted deer management options, such as fencing, repellents, guard animals and landscape plantings that are unappealing to deer, can help reduce tick abundance.

Insecticides can help keep the pests away, especially when combined with practices that make the yard unfavorable for ticks. Fast acting, residual, synthetic pyrethroid formulations can be effective when applied with a high-pressure sprayer to the edge of the yard and other areas favorable for ticks. The best time to spray is in the spring, around the middle of May, and in October.

Tick tubes are another way to bring insecticides into contact with ticks. These devices contain cotton balls treated with an insecticide that smaller tick hosts, such as rodents, take and use to build nests. If an immature tick latches onto the rodent and comes in contact with this nesting material, it will die.

Before using insecticides, read the full label and if you have any questions, ask your local WVU Extension Service agent

Connecting the people of West Virginia to the University’s resources and programs is the primary goal of WVU Extension Service and its 55 offices throughout the state.  Local experts, like WVU Extension’s agents and specialists, work to help improve the lifestyles and well-being of youths, workforces, communities, farms and businesses through trusted research in the counties in which they serve. 

To learn more about WVU Extension programs, visit www.extension.wvu.edu, or contact your local office of the WVU Extension Service.

-WVU-

zl/06/21/17

CONTACT: Zane Lacko, WVU Extension Service, 304.293.8986; zlacko@mail.wvu.edu

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