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Ticks: how to lick ’em!

May 2, 2011

Even in NYC we need to be aware of ticks. I have never found one on the kids or myself after a weekend in the park, but I have found them on the dog, so they must be out there somewhere!   Per the NYC Department Health and Mental Hygiene website, there are two kinds of ticks prevalent in the city:  American dog ticks and deer ticks.

There are many ways to avoid getting bitten by ticks:

  • Avoid tall grass and other high vegetation areas, especially in “known” tick areas.  If we’re hiking with the kids and I see a handful of ticks on the dog, we find a new place to hike. The dog is treated against the ticks so they invariably jump off him and onto us.
  • Wear light colored clothing so the ticks are more easily found.
  • Wear long pants, socks, shoes, etc., leaving minimal skin available.
  • Upon returning inside, tumble dry clothes that may have ticks on them – use high heat which apparently will kill the ticks although a wash cycle alone will not.
  • This one is debatable – use an insecticide.  Most sources recommend either a product with 20% DEET on skin and clothing or treating clothing with Permethrin. We use “Off w/20% deet” spray on ankles, shoes, hats and cuffs when we’re going hiking. Grown-ups put it on the kids and it seems to help. Many people are afraid of possible ill-effects from being exposed to the DEET and studies also show that DEET isn’t highly effective against ticks.   Permethrin is apparently more effective against ticks, though it seems a little scary as it is only to be applied to clothing and shoes and outdoor gear — not on skin. We haven’t used this.

I have not been able to find any natural remedies that are effective against ticks.

  • Our most effective tick deterrent is the most obvious – do regular tick checks. We check the kids and dog before coming inside, and then do a naked check again before putting on pajamas. Pay particular attention to the “dark areas,”  under arms, in creases, behind ears, etc., though the ticks seemed just as happy to grab on to my then-infant daughter’s meaty forearm (I was furious!).

In spite of playing your best game, a tick will eventually get by the goalie and you’ll find one on you or your kids, enjoying a meal. After the initial gross-out, you need to be all business. Hopefully, the tick you find will have just jumped onto you, but you might find one that is engorged. Now for the gross out- that means it has been attached and eating for longer. Most sources say that a tick needs to be attached for 24 hours before it can transmit disease, but any tick is for any amount of time skeeves me out.

How to remove a tick:

Remove the tick with a pair of tweezers, grabbing it as close to the skin as you can and pulling straight out. Be diligent — I have never gotten one out on the first try. Discard the ticks in a Ziplock bag or jar and store in the freezer in case you need further identification. (We don’t actually do that, but every how-to list I could find recommends it.) Wash your hands and the affected area thoroughly with mild soap and water.

My family and I spend a lot of time in a wooded area in CT that is full of deer, so we are pretty careful when it comes to ticks. Despite our vigilance, my husband came down with Lyme Disease last summer. We never found the tick on him but we surmised what was wrong with him quickly and got him on antibiotics.  The classic bulls-eye rash was absent in his case, but he was in bed with a fever for almost a week. Fortunately, the antibiotics worked and he was back to new within a few weeks.

The first time I found a grey, shiny, engorged tick on my dog I almost had to be tranquilized I was so grossed out. I raced over to my nurse-neighbor’s apartment for assistance in the “removal.” I botched the removal and ended up dropping a hundred dollars I didn’t have at the vet. I probably kept the poor dog from playing with other dogs for a month, so worried was I that he would be exposed again. Fast forward ten years: the dog still gets an occasional tick, which I remove, with only a little hysteria. But if I spy a tick hiding in my son’s hair, the mom-thing clicks in and I’m calm as a cucumber as I distract him and get that bugger off him. Right before I send him back outside to play.