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Tick tips: What you need to know to stay protected against tick-borne illnesses

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Winter-weary people may be eager to delight in summertime activities, but they need to be alert to the risk of disease-carrying ticks as they head outdoors, said Michelle Feist, epidemiologist with the North Dakota Department of Health.

“The tick is so tiny it’s difficult to see,” she said, but by breaking the skin it can transmit bacteria that cause disease symptoms ranging from mild to serious.

The only way you can get a tick-transmitted disease is by being bitten by an infected tick, she said.

“If you see one, remove it as soon as you can.”   

In recent years, deer ticks, which can carry Lyme disease, have been found in northeast counties of the state, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t in others, she said.

Dog ticks, the most common tick in this region, can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.

“The best way to prevent tick bites is to use products with the active ingredient DEET,” she said.

“If you’re going to be walking in a woodsy area or tall grass, you can put the product on your clothes and your skin.”

Feist offered other suggestions for protection from ticks:

  •  If you’re outside eight hours or more, take a break every few hours to check your body.

With frequent checking you can discover and remove a tick before it embeds itself in your skin. A quick daily tick check at bath or shower time can also prevent infection. Don’t forget to check your hairline and scalp.

  •  Treat clothing and equipment with insecticide.  

Clothing and equipment that have been treated with permethrin, a synthetic chemical used as an insecticide, will repel ticks. Or, you can buy a product that contains this ingredient and apply it yourself.

  •  Make your environment unfriendly to ticks.

Protect yourself and your family by reducing tick abundance in your yard and treating pets every month with an over-the-counter medication or shampoo. Make your yard less attractive to ticks by keeping your grass cut short and bushes trimmed, and eliminating leaf litter, which provides a habitat for ticks.

  •  Wearing light-colored clothing makes it easier to spot ticks.

A deer ticks looks like a poppy seed, or a little larger, so they’re easy to miss.

  •  Ticks crawl up.

Ticks don’t jump or fly. They are found mostly close to the ground, where they latch onto the foot, crawl up the body and bite in hard-to-see places.  

  •  The easiest and safest way to remove a tick is with a pointy tweezer.

With the tweezer, grab the tick as close to the skin as possible to extract it completely. With a slow and steady motion, pull it out like a splinter, then wash the area thoroughly with soap and water.

If you can’t remove the tick entirely, and any head or mouth parts remain lodged in the skin, watch for signs of infection (sometimes these will work themselves out naturally).

If redness or swelling develops or you feel ill, see your primary care provider.