After an unusually snowy and miserable winter, I was looking forward to going outside and enjoying the warm weather.
Then I heard the bad news: the same weather conditions mean bugs and pests will be out in force this year.
That includes ticks, those nasty critters that jump out of the woods to suck your blood.
Not only are they gross, but plenty of ticks can also make you sick with painful conditions - including Lyme disease.
If you want to enjoy your summer with no fear, learn how to treat these bites safely and what to look out for.
How can I protect myself against ticks?
Like dealing with mosquitoes, ants, and other bugs, a little tick prevention goes a long way.
If you plant to be out in the woods, wear clothing with long sleeves and pant legs.
A light color will also make ticks stick out on your clothes, and tucking your pants into your socks will help too.
Insect repellents labeled for ticks, or that use DEET, will also keep the bugs at bay.
You can even get yourself and your pets immunized against certain tick-borne illnesses.
But the best defense is a daily check of your body (or your pet's) for any ticks.
Where are ticks most common?
Every region of the U.S. includes at least one tick that will bite humans.
But these bugs are creatures of habit, and it's easy to identify where they will be.
Along with the woods, ticks like to gather in vegetable and flower gardens, compost piles, near bird feeders, and on playground equipment.
Can I remove a tick with a match?
There are plenty of folk treatments and old wives' tales about how to treat tick bites on the internet.
Some say you should burn a tick off. Others recommend dousing the bug in salt. Even rubbing the tick with Vaseline or fingernail polish has been recommended.
All of these cures are a bad idea. They're meant to irritate the tick, which can make it spray infected material into your body.
Your goal is to pull a tick off quickly and safely, doing as little harm to it (and you) as possible.
How can I safely remove a tick?
First, put on gloves. You don't want to touch a tick with your bare hands.
Take a pair of clean tweezers with a fine head, and pinch the tick as close to your skin as possible.
Pull straight back without twisting, trying to remove the tick in one piece without bursting its body.
The tick's mouth may still be clinging to your skin. but don't remove it yourself. This piece will fall out naturally, or your doctor will remove it.
How can I treat a tick wound?
Once you've pulled the tick off, wash the wound with warm, soapy water and a little alcohol to disinfect it.
Keep the wound clean, dry, and covered with a bandage to prevent an infection.
What should I do with the tick's body?
If you develop an illness from a tick bite, it's important to know what kind of tick has bitten you.
Save the tick's body in a plastic baggy, a pill bottle, or a container of alcohol, and store it in the freezer to preserve it.
Should I visit the doctor if a tick bit me?
Some tick bites are harmless, but there are a number of warning signs you should never ignore.
If the tick has burrowed into your skin, or if parts of the tick can't be removed, you must go to the doctor.
Be on the lookout for worrying reactions like a headache, difficulty breathing, chest pains, or partial paralysis.
Even if these symptoms disappear, you should still visit a doctor because the disease that caused them may remain in your system.
Also, if your tick wound is red or oozing it may be infected, which will also need treatment ASAP.
What kinds of ticks are the most dangerous?
Throughout America, the main tick species to worry about is the black-legged tick, often called a deer tick.
These ticks are known for carrying Lyme disease, one of the most dangerous tick-borne conditions.
If your doctor recognizes you were bitten by a deer tick, they may prescribe a small dose of antibiotics to prevent Lyme disease.
But even if a deer tick bites you, don't panic. A tick usually has to be stuck to your body for more than 24 hours to infect you with the disease.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
In the first month after a tick bite, you should be on the lookout for flu-like symptoms: fever, headaches, nausea, vomiting, muscle and joint pain, and rashes.
The area of your bite may also look red and inflamed.
Lyme disease bites are often very recognizable: they make a red "bull's-eye" pattern on the skin that spreads out gradually.
If the disease goes untreated for several months, it can spread through the bloodstream causing fatigue, weakness, and even neurological problems.
What other diseases can ticks carry?
Depending on where you live, there are a few notable diseases to look out for:
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever is more common on the East Coast of the U.S. and the Southern Midwest. It covers the body with flat, pink spots that spread out from the wrists.
- Southern tick associated rash illness is spread almost exclusively in the Southeast. It leaves the same red "bull's-eye" mark as Lyme disease, but it's less severe.
- Ticks can also spread a common type of skin ulcer called tulamaria, which can cause swelling under the armpits or in the groin.
- The Powassan virus, a rare condition spread mainly in Minnesota and Wisconsin, can cause deadly brain swelling.
To learn more about how to wipe out pests in your region, check our handy area-by-area guide.
If rats and mice are your main concern, we have a few tips to drive them out of your home as well.