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Avoiding ticks in the landscape

One tip to reduce the risk of getting ticks is to tuck pants into socks when walking through high grass.
One tip to reduce the risk of getting ticks is to tuck pants into socks when walking through high grass. Getty Images/iStockphoto

This is the time of year we love to get outside for playing, gardening and hiking. As we pursue these fun outdoor activities, it isn’t unusual to find the occasional tick. Although present in Georgia year-round, ticks are now out in force and pose a risk. This year, the tick pressure seems to be unusually high.

There are three species of ticks in Georgia that commonly feed on human blood. Occurring in the largest numbers, the lone star tick has a wide host range. The female has a single white spot in the middle of her back. The second, the American dog tick, prefers dogs as a host, but will feed on a variety of animals. Both the males and females have diffuse markings on their backs. Third, the black-legged tick, is smaller with no white markings. It also has a wide host range.

The lone star tick and American dog tick are the main carriers of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, while the black-legged tick is the major carrier of Lyme disease.

These ticks have similar lifecycles that involve three distinct stages (each of which requires a host’s blood) — the six-legged larvae (known as seed ticks), the intermediate nymph and the adult tick. Ticks are prolific critters. Females can lay up to 6,000 eggs in a single mass. They also can survive up to a year while waiting for a host. Ticks are very adept at locating a host by detecting exhaled carbon dioxide and body warmth. They also sense movement to locate the next meal.

While tick-borne diseases aren’t as common in Georgia as one might think, it is a good idea to be aware of the symptoms. Common symptoms might be confused with the flu and include severe headaches, fever and a rash. Generally, disease transmission requires at least 24 hours of tick attachment. Symptoms usually show up between one and two weeks afterward. If you suspect a tick-borne infection, see a doctor promptly.

There are a number of precautions you can take to avoid tick bites.

Keep your grass cut short to deter ticks. Stay in areas where the vegetation is open or maintained below ankle height. Walking trails should be kept mowed, and hikers should avoid any vegetation brushing against their legs.

When in an outside area that is likely to attract ticks, wear light-colored clothing and prevent easy access to your skin by tucking your pants into your socks and your shirt into your pants. Ticks don’t jump, fly or live in trees, so they must start at ground level and move upward.

Use repellents containing “Deet,” which can be applied to the skin. Repellents containing the insecticide permethrin (such as Repel) can be sprayed on socks, shoes and pants.

When working outside, check yourself for ticks at least twice a day, and make a habit of regularly checking your children for ticks when they have been playing outdoors.

Though it isn’t possible to eliminate ticks completely, lawns can be sprayed with products containing permethrin, cyfluthrin, imidacloprid or other labeled pesticides to reduce tick levels. For a more comprehensive list of pesticides, contact your local Cooperative Extension office.

Contact county Extension agent Karol Kelly at karolk@uga.edu.