“I hate nature,” my 12-year-old daughter mumbled years ago as the urgent care doctor removed a tick embedded in the middle of her back. She’d been away at a week-long school camp in Northern California, so we had no idea how long the tick had been there. Fortunately, she didn’t contract Lyme disease from the bite.
I’ve always been afraid of ticks (along with snakes and poison oak), and I was reminded of my fears last month while taking a nature hike in the redwoods near the Russian River. The guide reminded us to stay on the trail and do a tick check after the hike because it’s expected to be a “very heavy tick season” this year. After the late rains, we have more vegetation, which increases the numbers of rodents, deer and, consequently, ticks. Counties perform “tick flagging,” which means they test for the bacteria that cause Lyme and other diseases to get a sense of how bad the season will be. Every year, experts give the same advice: use inspect repellents containing DEET to repel ticks and permethrin to kill them, cover as much skin as possible with clothing, and do a head-to-toe tick check after being out in the woods.
For tick problems in your wooded backyard, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed bait boxes, which help you fight ticks without using dangerous pesticides. They attract tick-carriers like mice and chipmunks into a 5×7-inch box. The insecticide inside kills ticks but doesn’t harm the rodents. One study showed that the tick population was reduced by 97 percent when bait boxes were used. The boxes can be purchased on-line and through licensed pest control companies.
One more thing: If you do find a tick on your body, use fine-tipped tweezers and steady pressure to pull it straight out. Don’t worry if parts of the insect break off and stay under your skin—they’ll eventually work their way out like splinters do. The main thing to remove is the body of the tick. Clean the area with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.