Ticks are disease-carrying, blood-sucking, undercover jerks that live to make your outdoor activities miserable. While that might sound a touch dramatic, it's true. Recently, actor Chris Evans passionately tweeted, "I. Hate. Ticks. I hate how they look. I hate what they do. I hate how they do it. I’m against their whole thing." And honestly, same.
There's a good reason why people should get fired up about ticks: They carry and transmit disease germs, such as Lyme disease, explains Thomas Mather, PhD, director of URI's Center for Vector-Borne Disease and its TickEncounter Resource Center. Ticks are all around us, and studies show that most of the ticks carrying Lyme disease are found in people's backyards, he adds. "You don't have to go to the woods to find them; they're right there with you," he says.
If the thought of ticks hiding out in the grass as you take an outdoor yoga class makes you shudder, ahead are Dr. Mather's tips for avoiding these tiny creatures no matter where you are:
Get tick-repellent clothing.
"Wearing tick-repellent clothing is the single most effective way to keep ticks from biting you," Dr. Mather explains. Clothing is typically treated with an insecticide called permethrin, which you can also buy and DIY on items you already own. It's important to treat your shoes, socks, and pants first, because ticks tend to start at ground level and work their way up your body, he says.
Don't trust natural repellents.
There are plenty of "all natural" products made with botanicals that have been evaluated as safe by the Environmental Protection Agency — but that doesn't mean that they work. Many contain ingredients such as garlic oil, essential oils, and even certain fungi. However, there's really only anecdotal evidence that these treatments do anything at all, Dr. Mather says. The problem is, many people go out slathered in essential oils thinking they're protected, which ends up being more dangerous than if you were to proceed cautiously because you know you're not protected, he says.
Given that ticks start low and crawl their way up your body, they're most likely to end up below your waist, Dr. Mather says. A few of the top hot spots include behind the knees, between the legs, under the arms, and in the belly button, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). When you're scanning your body for ticks, he suggests doing "tick yoga," meaning you should lean over and check everywhere with a full-length mirror. (Sitting on a toilet might be your best positioning, especially when examining your groin area.)
Know what you're looking for.
If, god forbid, you find a tick on your body, or on your pet's body, then it's important to know what species of tick it is, Dr. Mather says. Although there's only one family of tick in the United States that transmits the germ that causes Lyme, there are different types of ticks that can also be dangerous. (Good to know: TickEncounter has a helpful resource that allows you to submit photos of ticks if you're not sure what type of monster you're dealing with.)
Remove it properly.
To get a tick off your skin, use a pair of tweezers and pull upwards, so that the mouth parts and head (gross, sorry) don't get stuck in the skin, the CDC suggests. (The head can still infect you if it gets trapped in your body.) Try not to crush the tick, because that can also separate the head. Then, kill it by putting it in alcohol, sealing it in a bag or container, placing it in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Be thorough, because ticks can live up to six years.
Take a shower.
After you’ve checked your clothing and gear for any stragglers, take a shower within two hours of coming inside, the CDC recommends. This could help wash off any ticks that haven’t attached to your skin yet. Studies also suggest that showering may reduce your risk of Lyme disease.