Tag Archives: ticks

tick prevention tips_outside party

How to Keep Ticks Out of Your Party and Off Your Guests

You’ve gone through your party checklist from guests to food, but did you add tick prevention to your list? Follow these simple tips to keep ticks out of your party and off your guests.


We all know that mosquitoes, flies and ants are notorious outdoor party crashers. But there are other, far more stealthy uninvited guests, too: ticks. While they may not ruin an outdoor wedding, cocktail party, picnic or backyard barbecue, they can leave both you and your guests with serious long-term health consequences.

Otherwise harmless behavior—like sitting at a table on the grass in the shade of your own backyard, or elsewhere in a park or vineyard, or while walking to and from a parking lot to the beach through grass—can expose you to disease-carrying ticks and be your undoing.

Unfortunately, after a warm, wet winter across much of the U.S. and all the rain that fell this spring, there are more ticks than ever. However, there are ways to keep ticks from ruining the party, not to mention potentially harming your health. “The most important thing is to avoid getting bitten in the first place,” said Sara Tyghter, Global Lyme Alliance’s (GLA) Director of Education and Outreach. Here, GLA and several wedding and event planners share their tips for staying tick-safe at outdoor gatherings.

Apply Repellent

“Ticks should definitely be on everyone’s radar,” said John Perry, co-owner of Catering by… a Small Affair, a boutique wedding and event planning firm based in the Hamptons. ”Yet in my 20 years of catering, I’ve found that guests think more about comfort and avoiding mosquitoes than about [tick] safety. That will change in time.”

One of the most important ways to protect yourself and your guests from ticks and the diseases they carry is by applying an effective repellent to exposed skin. Two well-known ingredients to look for in a tick repellent are picaridin and DEET. In addition, there are numerous essential oils—citronella, lemon leaves, lavender, lemon eucalyptus and several others—but they only provide a brief period of repellency against ticks.

tick repellent_image onlyDEET has long been considered the gold standard for all repellents. Yet DEET has some drawbacks. It emits a distinctive—and for many, unpleasant—odor and can feel oily on skin. Moreover, it can dissolve certain plastics (think eyeglasses, phones, etc.), and leather and synthetic fabrics such as rayon and spandex. Repellents containing 20% picaridin, long used and trusted in Europe, are less toxic. Studies have shown picaridin is as effective as DEET against ticks and mosquitoes. But unlike DEET, picaridin is nearly odorless (some have a mild citrus scent when first applied), non-greasy, and won’t damage clothing or gear. For more on pros and cons on a variety of tick repellents, check out GLA’s Tick Repellent Roundup.

Some event planners say they bring repellents in different forms to gatherings. Lynn Easton, founder of a special-events firm in Charlottesville and Charleston, South Carolina, says she puts several types of repellent wipes in the guest bathrooms,  while others such as party planner Bill Homan, co-founder of Design Cuisine in Arlington, Virginia says he often offers trays of bracelets made with oils including geraniol, lemon grass and citronella as a natural tick repellent. Chris L. Fuentes, founder and CEO of Ranger Ready Repellents, based in South Norwalk, Connecticut, says often party-planners create spray stations, in which baskets of Ranger Ready products are placed outdoors, away from food, where party goers can easily apply repellent to prevent insect bites and focus on enjoying themselves.

Spray Your Clothes

Most of us are familiar with the admonitions to wear long-pants (tucked into socks), long-sleeved shirts, and a hat. But let’s face it, that kind of get-up in the hot, skin-baring days of summer—especially at an outdoor event—may be difficult if not out of the question. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you wear clothes treated with permethrin, an insecticide produced by the chrysanthemum flower that repels and kills ticks on contact. Or treat your own clothes with a permethrin spray which you can buy online through Amazon and at various retailers and sports stores.

You can also send items directly to Insect Shield and they will treat the clothes—including cocktail attire and wedding dresses—for you. “People send anything and everything to be treated,” said Janine Robertson, an Insect Shield spokesperson. “More people are learning about the need for tick-repellent clothing,” she added, whether it’s in your own backyard, at an outdoor concert, or an outdoor cocktail party.”

Don’t Forget Your Shoes

One way to stop tiny ticks (often as small as a poppy seed) is by wearing shoes that have been sprayed with permethrin. Ticks usually await you in leaf litter or on blades of grass. From there, they latch onto a shoe and start crawling up your body. As a good first line of defense, consider spraying your shoes a day or so before your event. “I went to a pool party wearing open-toed shoes and I made sure to spray my feet and legs with repellent and my shoes with permethrin because I knew there would be a grassy area,” said Westchester, New York’s Staci Grodin, a GLA Board member. “If I know a friend is going to an outdoor party, I always encourage them to spray their shoes.”

ticks_lavenderThe Flower  that Ticks and Mosquitoes Despise

Who doesn’t love fresh flowers? If you are considering a flower centerpiece for an outdoor party, ask your florist to incorporate some soft lavender flowers since ticks and mosquitoes will avoid the flowery scent. Similarly, a bride’s bouquet for an outdoor wedding might include a few sprigs of lavender.

Get The Help of an Exterminator

Most outdoor venues will have trained and licensed technicians come on a regular basis to spray for bugs. But check the time between the last spraying and your particular event. The most effective thing is to have an exterminator on site a few days before your get-together to spray all the usable space. At Jill Gordon Celebrate, a Hamptons firm, for instance, they spray two to three days before a wedding date or other event.

Do a Tick Check

After returning home, do a meticulous tick check of your entire body. Also check your children and pets. Ticks will attach just about anywhere. Pay particular attention to the groin area, naval, armpits, and behind the ears and knees. A tick that’s attached to you may feel like an unfamiliar mole or bump. “Raising awareness is important. We always tell people to be careful and double-check themselves,” says Marcy Blum, a New York event and wedding planner. “No one wants a tick on their body.”

If you do find a tick attached to you, try not to panic. Stay calm and remove it with pointy tweezers or tick removal tool as soon as you can. By removing the tick as quickly as possible, you reduce the chance of infection. Click here to see proper tick removal technique.

For simple tips to help prevent Lyme and other tick-borne diseases–from avoiding tick habitats to using tick repellent, to checking yourself for ticks–visit BeTickAWARE.org “By practicing good tick-bite prevention habits,” says Tyghter, “you’ll make yourselves and your guests safer from the tick threat.”

Written by Rona Cherry for Global Lyme Alliance

tick threats

Taking Stock of Tick Threats

by Mayla Hsu, Ph.D., Director of Research and Science, GLA

“Tickpocalypse!” “The Year of the Tick!” “A Tick-ing Time Bomb!” These are all recent clickbait headlines that cause us fear and anxiety. But how do we realistically and reasonably know the risk of acquiring tick-borne diseases? How can we anticipate that ticks will be in our neighborhoods?

There’s no doubt that Lyme disease and other illnesses spread by ticks are on the increase. As might be expected, climate change, land and habitat management, and human behavior are all variables that affect the degree of risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that the geographic range of ticks is expanding, with the principal vector of Lyme disease, Ixodes or black-legged tick, now found in 49% of all US counties. The CDC has also shown that the number of counties with high Lyme disease incidence is growing. If areas previously unknown for ticks become suitable habitats for them, which is now occurring, we will need surveillance strategies that will dependably inform public awareness and prevention programs.

More than 40 years after Lyme disease was first identified, we now know that the life cycle of ticks depends on host species that provide the three blood meals needed for a tick’s major life transitions: (1) from larva to nymph, then (2) nymph to adult, and (3) so adult females can lay eggs. Small mammals like mice and chipmunks, as well as birds, deer and other animals are all host species for ticks. When not “questing”, or awaiting passing hosts from the tops of blades of grass, and when not attached to host animals, ticks are on the ground, where they spend most of their time.

We can measure tick abundance by directly counting ticks caught in traps or by cloth dragging, and identifying the tick species caught. Advantages to this are relative ease and lack of expensive technology. However, cloth dragging on the ground may be obscured by dense vegetation or trees. Another obvious limitation is that dragging may not sample large enough geographic areas. In addition, transient environmental variables like weather changes or time of day can affect tick trapping and drag capture outcomes.

Surveying animals is another way to measure tick prevalence. This can include counting ticks from domestic livestock or pets, or trapping wild animals such as mice. Wild host species can potentially serve as “sentinel” species, indicating tick abundance in the host’s native habitat. Generally, a good sentinel species would be an animal that can be caught and sampled readily, has a predictable geographic range, and is attractive to ticks. An example is the white-tailed deer, in which tick burden and pathogen load has been successfully studied in hunted animals.

Another example is wild pigs, whose large range can span various habitat types, and who can host varying species of ticks. In a recent study of 316 wild pigs in Florida, 1,023 adult ticks and only one nymph tick were collected. In contrast, 39 adults, 150 nymphs, and 2,808 larvae were found from dragging. This difference is likely because immature stages of ticks tend to quest lower than adults. Thus, larvae and nymphs are more likely to found than adults by dragging survey. In contrast, adult ticks may be more likely to be detected on hosts that have a medium to large body mass. Overall, these results suggest that complementary information was available from the two sampling methods. Together, cloth drags and sentinel species gave more complete information about tick abundance than each done separately.

With field data from cloth dragging and sentinel species, mathematical models can be built to predict whether tick populations in local neighborhoods are expected to be high or low. These calculations add data on elevation and weather patterns, including humidity, daily and seasonal temperature fluctuations, and precipitation. The type of habitats, whether agricultural, grassland, or forest, all composed of varying vegetation types, are also included in models.

Mathematical models were used to identify the highest densities of host-seeking nymph ticks in Minnesota. The study’s authors found that tick density increased as the proportion of agricultural land decreased, with the highest risk of host-seeking nymph ticks in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. Large swathes of western and southern Minnesota were found to be unsuitable for ticks, perhaps because such large rural areas are lacking in potential tick hosts. They also found that extremes of temperature and precipitation were identified as predictors of tick density.

Climate change will play a big role in tick habit expansion, with reports of ticks now emerging in Canada. Specialized mathematical models known as climate envelope models predict suitable new habitats for species. This type of model was used to determine whether a newly invasive tick, Haemaphysalis longicornis, would be predicted to expand in New Zealand. It was calculated that 75% of cattle farms in North Island and 3% of those in South Island will be suitable habitats for this tick, a concern because it transmits cattle anemia. This information will be important for gearing policy toward tick surveillance and reduction.

Ticks are an important concern for public health, environmental management, and agriculture. Only with reliable and valid research will we be able to accurately describe and anticipate future tick threats. This will be a rational first step toward effective control.

mayla hsuMayla Hsu, Ph.D.
Director, Research and Science
Global Lyme Alliance

Mayla manages GLA’s research grant program, working with the Scientific Advisory Board and creating viable partnerships to help advance the development of a reliable diagnostic test, effective treatments and ultimately a cure for Lyme.


tick table

The Effect of Drought on Tick-Borne Disease in Africa

By Hannah Staab

Lyme disease, which is endemic in the United States, is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi . In Africa, however, there are different tick-borne diseases affecting communities.

Tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF) is one of the most frequent bacterial diseases in Africa, and is transmitted by bites of the Ornithodoros genus of tick, which has a soft body instead of the hard body of ticks that are common in the US. These ticks also carry different species of the Borrelia bacterium, including B. hispanica and B. crocidurae, which are known to cause TBRF in northern and western Africa. In addition to harboring different pathogens, these species of ticks also have extremely varied preferences when it comes to their chosen habitat and climatic range.

In Africa, ticks colonize burrows to find shelter and hosts for blood meals. These burrows are typically dug by small mammals in dry ground, and are located near houses, agricultural fields, or in undeveloped areas. Since many of the burrows are close to where humans live and work, many people are at risk of getting bitten and becoming ill with TBRF.

A groundbreaking study conducted by Jean-Francois Trape et al. in 1996 revealed how quickly TBRF was spreading, and how climate could enhance the success of the TBRF bacterium. This research revealed that 10% of the study population in Senegal became infected with TBRF during a two-year prospective study period, and that the range of this disease was almost an entire degree of latitude further south than the previous southernmost boundary of the disease.

To find the underlying cause behind the increased infection rate and southward range expansion of TBRF, Trape et al. (1996) investigated the possible connection with climate, specifically, a drought in Senegal and other areas of sub Saharan Africa in 1970. To see if dramatic changes in precipitation could be related to the spread of ticks, they mapped out the average annual precipitation in Senegal from 1947 to 1969 and from 1970 to 1992, the periods before and after the drought. They then compared precipitation maps to the maps of the tick’s range in these two time periods, and found that the ticks preferred habitats with annual rainfall below 750mm. Areas receiving 750mm of rainfall were at the southernmost border of the tick’s range. The maps also revealed that the drought caused annual precipitation to drop in all areas. Regions that had average annual precipitation of 850mm to1,000mm from 1947 to 1969 had less that 750mm rainfall in the period during the drought. The shift in annual precipitation allowed areas that were previously unsuitable for ticks to become welcoming habitats, and with the spread of ticks across Senegal, came the increasing prevalence of TBRF.

So why do the ticks in Africa prefer drier conditions, while the ticks in America thrive in humidity and high precipitation? The answer links back to the habitat choice of the ticks. In Africa, small mammals often dig the burrows that the ticks inhabit, so that they can evade the hot and dry climate that they face above ground. Environmental stressors usually invoke an appropriate behavioral response in pants and animals, and for small mammals in Africa, the response to severe drought is to dig burrows in the ground. This could be the reason why the persistent drought in sub Saharan Senegal that started in the 1970’s allowed ticks to expand their range, and why ticks are further extending their ranges now, as Africa is undergoing the impact of climate change.

An example of this is the Gharb region in northwestern Morocco, which has recently documented a high incidence of TBRF in humans. A study by Souidi et al. (2014) investigated the reasons behind the increase of TBRF by looking at how many small mammal burrows are colonized by ticks in the area, how many of those ticks are carrying infectious bacteria, and how the changing climate might tie in to these variables. The data that this study collected suggests that the increasing aridity of the northwestern Morocco could be a significant factor in the rising incidence of ticks and TBRF in the Gharb region.

Climate change will impact each ecosystem differently, with each species and community reacting differently to the series of severe effects that it brings. Ticks around the world are facing different outcomes of climate change, such as increasing temperatures, higher rates of humidity in some areas, as well as increasing aridity and dryness in others. It seems that in all cases, however, natural selection drives the ticks to exploit these changes, and they are spreading faster than ever.

For more on Lyme disease and climate change, click here.

Effect of Landscape Fragmentation on the Prevalence of Infected Ticks

By Hannah Staab

Even though climate change is believed to be a major influence on tick abundance and Lyme infections around the world, there are other human practices that have the potential to contribute to the spread of ticks and Lyme disease. A study by Simon et al. (2014) discussed the reasons that ticks and white-footed mice might be spreading from the northeastern US into southern Canada. In addition to increasing global temperatures, land fragmentation could be a huge factor in changing tick abundance.

Woodlands are being destroyed to build cities and agricultural fields, breaking forests into smaller and smaller units of land. Deforestation and land fragmentation are suspected to be why Lyme might be spreading so rapidly, but this idea is highly contested and there have been studies pointing in both directions even as research continues.

Studies conducted across various European regions investigated this hypothesis and found a significant effect of certain elements of land fragmentation on infected tick abundance. Research done in central France and Belgium has revealed that land with more forest edge has a higher prevalence of infected ticks. Other studies identified the transition areas between woodlands and developed areas as another factor in tick abundance in the Latvian countryside as well as in northern Spain. Li et al. (2012) conducted an experiment that followed up on these studies and supported their findings, discovering the importance of adjacent land cover, or “transition area”, in particular.

Li et al. used computer models to test a diverse range of land use scenarios. The land parcels varied in size and adjacent land cover, or “transition area” between woodlands. Using the models, they predicted the tick nymphal infection prevalence (NIP) and density of infectious nymphs (DIN) at the various sites. Results suggested that decreasing the size of the blocks of land led to an increase of NIP and DIN in woodlands adjacent to non-vegetated areas. However, when the adjacent land cover was grass instead of a non-vegetated area, the NIP and DIN measures decreased, showing that adjacent land cover can make a significant impact on the Lyme risk in an area.

The presence of the grasslands beside woodlands led to a lower risk of Lyme in the woodlands because of lowered tick survival rate. This is because the ticks would spread out into nearby grasslands, where many would not survive, since available hosts like mice and deer are scarcer, rather than concentrated into small areas. This larger land area dilutes the amount of infected ticks in the woodlands, and lowers the risk of being infected with Lyme. According to this study, land fragmentation does have an effect on the prevalence of infected ticks, and having grasslands adjacent to woodlands instead of non-vegetated areas is an effective way to reduce the risk of Lyme in a habitat.

A study by Zolnik et al. (2015) voiced an opposing perspective, arguing that land fragmentation does not contribute to the prevalence of infected ticks in wooded areas. The authors instead proposed that, it is high biodiversity in a community that reduces the risk of Lyme and tick-borne illnesses, by diminishing the abundance of reservoir species like the white-footed mouse. However, they found that levels of biodiversity had no significant effect on the amount of infected ticks. Thus, the effect of land fragmentation on variables other than host biodiversity may impact the abundance of infected ticks.

Even though this topic is still highly debated, many studies expose the likelihood that human interventions in woodlands and nearby areas have the potential to put people at a higher risk for Lyme disease. Common human practices such as deforestation, clearing land for agriculture or to create urban areas, mowing down grasslands, and fencing in forests, all have consequences when it comes to infected tick prevalence. As we continue deforestation, we are creating smaller patches of land where, many studies have shown, that the density of infected nymphs increases. More research is necessary to know the full effects of land fragmentation on Lyme disease risk. But while we are making future plans or thinking about how to manage our land, the potential impact on tick populations should definitely be taken into consideration.


Figure 1.  How tick abundance varies based on land block size and percentage of woodland area in those units of land. This is shown in two situations. Situation I being when the blocks of land are adjacent to non-vegetated area, and Situation II where the blocks of land are adjacent to grassland. The color scale on the right shows the number of infectious ticks per hectare of land, red signifying more ticks in an area, and blue signifying less. This shows that the smallest patches with least woodland cover have the most infected ticks when it is surrounded by non-vegetated area and have the least amount of infected ticks when it is surrounded by grassland. Adapted from Li et al. (2012) PLoS ONE Vol. 7(6) page 1-12.

For more on Lyme disease and climate change, click here

Lyme Disease Spread by Migratory Birds

By Hannah Staab & Mayla Hsu, Ph.D.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that diseases spread by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas tripled between 2004 and 2016. More than 640,000 of such illnesses were reported during these years, including Zika, dengue, chikungunya, Lyme disease and plague. These diseases are known as vector-borne diseases, because infection of humans requires transmission of the microbe by an intermediate species. The CDC acknowledges that the US is inadequately prepared to diagnose and treat these expanding epidemics, which are fueled in part by climate change and its effects.

For example, migratory birds have been linked to the spread of West Nile virus, avian influenza virus, Lyme disease, and many other illnesses. Etc. etc.

Migratory birds have been linked to the spread of West Nile virus, avian influenza virus, Lyme disease, and many other illnesses. Climate change is altering the amount of suitable habitats for disease-carrying animals such as ticks. Even though many new habitats now provide ideal living temperatures for ticks, it would be difficult for them to physically move to these new areas without some help. Migratory birds facilitate the movement of ticks to new territories. Avian migration has opened the door for many diseases to spread over vast distances each year by carrying disease vectors such as ticks, or by the birds being themselves infected by the disease and spreading it to others as they migrate.

To see the effect of bird migration on the spread of ticks across America, Cohen et al. (2015) conducted a study that measured how many ticks are brought into America by migratory birds. They also screened the ticks for various microbes, including pathogens that cause spotted fever, and the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. In the spring of 2013 and 2014 they captured 3,844 birds, of 85 different bird species that were returning north for the summer. Out of these 137, about 3.56%, were infected with ticks. All of the ticks collected were either in the larva or nymph stage of development, and 67% of the ticks they collected were neotropical ticks, meaning they were from Central or South America. After screening the ticks for diseases, they found that 38 of the ticks were infected with some variation of the spotted fever bacteria, Rickettsiae, and that none of the ticks harbored Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme.

The authors estimated that about 4 to 39 million neotropical ticks are brought to the United States each year. Although the ticks found in this study did not have Lyme, migratory birds are still introducing ticks to new habitats thus increasing tick populations across the country. Since the ticks they found were all larvae or nymphs, there was still a chance for them to become infected with Lyme, and spread it to future hosts. Ticks have three blood meals in their lifetime, one to help their development from larvae to nymphs, another for their transition from nymphs to adults, and finally, as adults before laying eggs. The Lyme bacterium or other pathogens are transmitted to ticks if one of their blood meal hosts is infected. Thus, the ticks that are transported to America on birds can still put humans at danger for Lyme disease, if they acquire their next blood meal from an infected host.

Ogden et al. (2015) conducted a somewhat different study examining the relationship between migratory birds and ticks. The study tracked how far north the birds were taking the ticks. They found that many birds went further north than their previous breeding sites when returning to Canada in the spring, and even went into territories beyond the tick’s climatic range (Figure 1). Even though ticks cannot currently survive in some of these areas, the increasing temperatures will make more and more of these habitats suitable over time. Climate change will also impact the migration routes of birds, and perhaps cause them to continue flying further north each year. Therefore birds will continue to bring ticks into new habitats, and the ticks will be more likely to survive in these northern areas as the temperatures continue to rise. Moreover, with rising temperatures, mice will also expand further north, possibly bringing the Lyme disease bacterium with them.

Ticks are very small, slow moving creatures; alone, it would be impossible for them to spread into new territories as far as northern Canada. However, ticks receive a lot of help from the small animals they latch onto, with organisms like migratory birds helping them cover vast distances. The actions of migratory birds amplify the effects of climate change on tick populations, and together they will help spread ticks into new territories. There can be little doubt that Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases will follow.

Regions used to assign birds to latitudinal bands in the Ogden et al. (2015) study. The results indicated that up to 70% of birds carrying ticks could bring them north of their capture locations (into bands C, D, and E), and up to 17% could transport ticks further into the boreal region of eastern Canada (bands D and E). This map shows how far north these ticks are being transported. Adapted from Cohen et al., 2016, Journal of Environmental Microbiology Vol. 3 page 322-350.

Figure 1. Regions used to assign birds to latitudinal bands in the Ogden et al. (2015) study. The results indicated that up to 70% of birds carrying ticks could bring them north of their capture locations (into bands C, D, and E), and up to 17% could transport ticks further into the boreal region of eastern Canada (bands D and E). This map shows how far north these ticks are being transported. Adapted from Cohen et al., 2016, Journal of Environmental Microbiology Vol. 3 page 322-350.

For more on Lyme disease and climate change, click here.

*This blog post has been updated in June 2018 to include the CDC announcement of May 2018.


How Climate Change Can Impact Lyme Disease

By Hannah Staab

Climate change has the potential to expand the incidence of Lyme disease. For example, shifting environmental conditions in ecosystems in the northeastern United States may contribute to the rising prevalence of Lyme disease in Canada. Lyme disease is spread by bites of black-legged ticks, and is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, bacteria that live in the tick midgut. As the geographic range of ticks and the bacteria expands northward due to regional warming, new human and animal hosts are now at risk of infection.

Ticks thrive in a specific temperature range, and if the environment is too cold, their metabolism cannot function at a high enough level to reproduce or look for a host to provide their next blood meal. Therefore, increasing global temperatures allow ticks to proliferate in areas that would normally be too cold to support their growth.

Not only are warmer temperatures providing ticks with new habitats, they also help the ticks in one of their most important pursuits, finding a host. In order to mature and reproduce, ticks require three separate blood meals from vertebrate hosts in their lifetime. To find the source of their meal, ticks engage in “questing behavior”, in which they climb to the top of blades of grass or vegetation to get a better chance of clinging onto a passing host. However, the tick’s ability to make this great climb is dependent on two factors, temperature and humidity. Studies have shown that ticks are more likely to quest in higher temperatures, due to the boost that temperature has on metabolism.

One study by Tomkins et al. (2014) sampled ticks from three areas in the UK, including northeastern Scotland, northern Wales, and southern England. They also studied ticks from France, one site at low, and another at high altitude. The climates in each of those locations vary from cool to warm, with annual mean maximum temperatures ranging from 9.9°C to 16°C (49.8°F to 60.8°F). Ticks from cooler habitats started questing at lower temperatures, and had a lower maximum tolerated temperature, showing their adaptation to their specific environments. The study also examined how the ticks from different regions responded to increases in temperature, and discovered that ticks from colder climates were more sensitive to changes in temperature than ticks from warmer areas. It’s possible then, that ticks in northern regions will start questing at even slight temperature increases. Therefore, a warmer climate would mean that ticks could have the opportunity to quest more frequently, and increase their chances of latching onto a host.

Global warming will lead to shorter and more favorable winters for ticks, increasing both the time that they are able to quest, and the frequency that they will find a host. A study by Simon et al. (2014) revealed that warmer temperatures are associated with northern expansion of the Peromyscus leucopus, the mouse species that serves as blood meals for tick nymphs, providing them with the resources to molt into adults, which then potentially infect larger mammals, including humans. Lyme disease has been emerging in Canada, and this study suggests that it is most prevalent in those areas where both mice and ticks have successfully expanded their range. This study predicts that by the year 2050, the black-legged tick will have expanded about 186 miles, the white-footed mouse will expand about 155 miles, and the range of the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium will move about 93 miles further north in Canada. During the last 15 years, Lyme disease has been spreading at a rapid rate in the US. With projected changes in temperature, there will be even more factors favoring Lyme proliferation, making it even more important for us to act now.

To tackle the coming wave of Lyme disease prompted by climate change, we can mitigate our impact on the environment by being conscious of our energy consumption, reducing our carbon footprints, generating less waste, eating locally, and conscientiously managing land use to reduce human exposure to areas with a high tick presence. However, temperatures are already on the rise, and Lyme disease is already expanding into new regions. Therefore, in addition to fighting climate change, we must redouble our efforts on Lyme disease research, so that we can be better prepared to care for the rising number of patients suffering from this debilitating disease.


For more on Lyme disease and climate change, click here

10 Top Myths About Lyme Disease

10 Top Myths About Lyme Disease

Lyme disease has become one of the fastest growing epidemics in the nation. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 329,000 new cases in the U.S. each year. But getting the facts about Lyme disease isn’t always easy.

Here are some of the biggest “myths” about the illness—and the information you need to protect yourself, your family and pets from tick bites so you can safely enjoy the outdoors.

Myth #1:  Lyme always causes a bulls-eye rash.

FACT:  Although most people associate Lyme disease with the bulls-eye-shaped “erythema migrans” (EM) rash, less than 50 percent of patients develop one. Early stage Lyme may manifest as a mild flu-like illness with a headache, a stiff neck, or a rash that’s so pale or oddly positioned that it’s barely noticeable. If you get a rash, it’s just as likely to look like a simple rash that is easily mistaken for a skin infection or spider bite.

Myth #2: Lyme is an East Coast illness only.

FACT: Although it’s more prevalent in the Northeast and Midwest, Lyme disease has been reported in all 50 states and is a problem around the globe. It is endemic in parts of Europe and Asia, Australia and Canada, and is even found in the Amazon region of Brazil.

Myth #3: You’ll know when you’ve been bitten by a tick.

FACT: Ticks have a numbing agent in their saliva so you don’t feel anything when one first bites you. You probably won’t even know a tick is feeding. Most people don’t ever recall seeing a tick latched onto them.

Myth #4: Ticks die in winter.

FACT: Many people believe that ticks die in winter, but that’s not true. Temperatures have to drop below 10 degrees Fahrenheit for a long time in order for ticks to start dying, and thanks to climate change that’s not the reality even in the northern states anymore. Although this past February was the coldest month on record for many Northeast and Midwest areas, the heavy snows paradoxically provided a layer of insulation for blacklegged ticks that are now questing for blood as the weather warms up.

Myth #5: You have to be near deer to be exposed to deer ticks.

FACT: If you don’t see any deer and think the coast is clear, think again. Blacklegged ticks (commonly called deer ticks) carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. They feed on small mice, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, birds, deer, and even on dogs and cats

Myth #6: Ticks fall from trees.

FACT: Ticks don’t jump, fly, or drop from trees. They crawl up. If you discover a tick on your head or back, it’s probably because it latched onto your foot or leg and crawled up your body and not because it fell off a tree branch. Minimize your exposure by tucking pant legs into socks and shoes, wear long-sleeved shirts, and tuck your shirt into pants to keep ticks on the outside of clothing.

Myth #7: Hiking and camping are the most common ways to catch a tick-borne disease.

FACT:  It’s important to make tick bite prevention an important part of your outdoor plans whether you are gardening, camping, hiking, biking, or just playing outdoors. Although black-legged ticks live in moist and humid environments, particularly in or near grassy or wooded areas, they will cling to brush and shrubs and live in lawns and gardens, especially at the edges of woods and around old stone walls.

Myth #8:  If the blood test is negative, you don’t have Lyme. 

FACT:  Tests for detecting Lyme disease are often inaccurate. At present, your doctor will probably recommend two-tiered blood testing requiring a positive ELISA test result. Doctors commonly order an ELISA first to screen for the disease, then confirm it with a Western Blot. The ELISA measures the total amount of antibodies produced by the body in response to the Lyme bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi). However, it may miss over half of Lyme cases because antibodies may not be high enough yet to detect, giving a false-negative result. 

Myth #9: Antibiotics cure everyone within two to three weeks.

FACT:  Studies show that as many as 20 percent of patients continue to exhibit symptoms even after they complete antibiotic treatment. What’s more, many of these individuals turn out to have co-infections transmitted by the same ticks that gave them Lyme. These co-infections don’t always respond to treatments for Lyme disease itself.

Myth #10: You can remove a tick with a match or by painting it with nail polish

FACT:   Forget any advice you’ve heard about holding a match to the end of a tick, swabbing it with nail polish or suffocating it with petroleum jelly.  You want to remove an embedded tick from your body. The easiest and safest way is to pull it gently out with tweezers. Grasp the tick close to its head, then slowly lift it away from the skin. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin.

Smart Landscaping to Outsmart Ticks at Home, Part 3 by Bob Oley

When working to make property as tick safe as possible, residents need to pay special attention to the property’s most frequently used areas. They should also keep in mind that drier areas are more apt to create low-risk tick zones.

Other easily implemented measures that can protect homes and surrounding property include:

  • Keep grass mowed short
  • Remove accumulations of leaves and brush
  • Eliminate ground cover such as pachysandra and replace with mulch
  • Keep trees, bushes and shrubs trimmed in order to reduce shade and allow more sunlight on the property
  • Create gravel or hard surfaced pathways to gardens and other commonly used areas; keep pathways free of weeds
  • Use hardscape and xeriscape landscaping practices wherever feasible to promote a drier less humid yard
  • Move children’s swing sets, sand boxes and play stations far away from the edge of woodlands and other overgrown areas, where ticks are known to thrive; relocate them in areas with full sunshine and less shade
  • Use mulch in ornamental gardens and children’s play areas as a ground cover; cedar mulch, which can act as a natural repellent to ticks, works best
  • Provide three foot wide mulch barriers around the perimeter of your property where the lawn meets the edge of woodlands or stone walls as a warning/demarcation line not to cross; maintain mulch to keep it free of weeds and brush

All these practices, taken in total as part of an integrated tick landscape management plan, will benefit you and your family. Being aware of your surroundings and smart about landscaping practices can help keep property safer from ticks and provide peace of mind as you enjoy the use of your property. In case you missed the earlier articles in this series: click here to read Part 1; click here to read Part 2.

Smart Landscaping to Outsmart Ticks at Home, Part 2 by Bob Oley

When working to protect the home and surrounding property from ticks, homeowners should deter deer from feeding on vegetation in the yard because deer are almost always infested with feeding ticks. Once fed, these ticks drop off deer wherever they happen to be, whether in flower beds or lawns.

To keep deer from entering private property, residents should install deer fencing high enough (approximately 7 to 8 feet) to prevent them from entering. If this is impractical, residents can try to eliminate plants that attract deer to the property.

Deer enjoy browsing on a variety of vegetation including apple, pear and cherry trees as well as rhododendrons, mountain laurel, rose bushes, impatiens, pansies, daisies, lilies, tulips and black-eyed Susans. While no plant species is completely immune to deer browsing; plants such as daffodils, marigolds, lily of the valley, honeysuckle, common lilac, forsythia, common boxwood, American holly, Norway spruce, wisteria and American bittersweet are their least favorite food items and generally will not attract them.

Research has shown that the majority of ticks found on a property are located in close proximity to a lawn’s perimeter (ecotone) with woodlands, stone walls, shady perennial beds and garden plantings. Thus, perimeter spraying of these particular areas with a pesticide that kills ticks can prove an important component of any landscape management plan.

The most common tick control agents used today for perimeter spraying are synthetic pyrethroids such as permethrin, befenthrin and cyfluthrin. Pyrethroids are organic compounds synthesized to be similar to the pyrethrin insecticide produced naturally by chrysanthemum flowers. When sprayed, these compounds do not leach through the soil, but are broken down over several days within the top few inches. They can prove toxic to fish in small ponds or streams, so caution must be used when spraying in close proximity to water bodies. For those not inclined to use synthetic chemicals, natural organic spray alternatives are available, such as cedar oil and a mixture of rosemary and peppermint oils.

Any perimeter spraying should be done three times each year: during the middle of May and the middle of June, to kill nymph deer ticks, and then again in the middle of October, to kill adult deer ticks.

Hardscape and xeriscape landscaping practices provide another beneficial component of a comprehensive landscape management plan. Hardscape landscaping practices make greater use of hard surfaces (as opposed to vegetated surfaces), such as flagstone patios, brick or gravel walkways, wooden decks and other similar features where family members and friends may congregate. Xeriscape landscaping incorporates plants that require less water and are thus more likely to survive in a drier environment, the type of habitat in which ticks cannot survive.

This post is part of a three-part series discussing ways to protect the home and surrounding areas from ticks. In the next article, we will offer quick tips for protecting your landscape from ticks. In case you missed the first article in this series, Part 1, click here.

Smart Landscaping to Outsmart Ticks at Home, Part 1 by Bob Oley

Over the next few weeks, TBDA will share a three-part series of posts exploring ways to protect homes and surrounding property from ticks through a comprehensive landscape management plan aimed at creating low-risk tick zones within commonly used areas. By reducing the tick population around the home, one can substantially minimize the likelihood that family members or friends will be bitten by a tick and contract one of many tick-borne illnesses, including Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, bartonella, or other viral infections.

These low-risk zones should include recreational, dining, entertainment and gardening areas, as well as areas close to walkways, storage sheds, firewood piles and mailboxes.

Ticks require a humid environment to survive and must feed on a vertebrate host to grow and reproduce. Without these two key elements, they cannot survive. Therefore, to make property safer from ticks, homeowners should minimize the number of potential tick hosts and create a drier, less inviting landscape for ticks.

Unfortunately, ticks feed on a wide assortment of hosts, any number of which can infect them with a pathogenic organism. Immature ticks (larvae and nymphs) prefer to feed on smaller vertebrates, such as white-footed mice, chipmunks, shrews and birds; while larger adult ticks enjoy feeding on larger animals like deer, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits and opossum. Ticks are most often transported into private yards by deer that browse on plants, mice and chipmunks that live in stone walls and woodpiles, and by ground-feeding birds such as robins, finches, wrens and blue jays.

To cut back on the number of hosts found on most properties, residents should develop a strategy that disrupts their habitat. First and foremost, residents must keep their property clear of garbage or other food sources that may attract rodents, deer and other potential tick hosts. This includes bird feeders and the spillage of seeds and nuts that fall to the ground beneath them. Bird feeders should be relocated away from the house or removed entirely.

Homeowners should also eliminate heavy brush and ground cover (pachysandra, ivy, etc.) close to home and replace it with mulch and other less dense alternatives. These areas should be open to as much sunlight as possible. Rodents and other wildlife are less attracted to open and exposed areas, and ticks like these areas no better because they lose the shady, humid surroundings required for their survival.

Residents should relocate woodpiles away from their homes, as they provide nesting places for small rodents, and do away with, relocate or seal old stone walls near homes, which serve as favorite nesting places for rodents. Remember: where there are rodents, there are ticks.

This post is part of a three-part series discussing ways to protect the home and surrounding areas from ticks. In the next aritcle, we will highlight specific types of vegetation that tick hosts find more and less appealing as well as ways to protect property perimeters.

Hidden Dangers In The Cold Fall & Winter by Bob Oley

Just when you were breathing a welcomed sigh of relief that the cold fall and winter weather would bring an end to the unforgiving spring and summer tick season, think again. Thanks to a protein in their bodies that works like antifreeze, ticks survive cold temperatures remarkably well, and can be found looking for a host to bite such as you whenever the temperature is above freezing and the ground is not frozen or covered with snow.


Ticks have become a year round problem from the east coast to the west coast all across the country for a variety of reasons, most important of which, there just are so many more of them out there. And though the ticks you find in the fall and winter months are somewhat different than the ones you find in spring and summer, they can make you just as sick with Lyme disease or any number of other tick-borne diseases if you are on the receiving end of their bite. In the spring and summer months, depending on which part of the country you live in, you generally have to deal with a collection of ticks including deer ticks, Western blacklegged ticks, American dog ticks, brown dog ticks, Lone Star ticks, Gulf Coast ticks, Rocky Mountain wood ticks, or Pacific Coast ticks. But come the fall and winter months, some of these tick species become inactive for a period of time (diapause) until the warmer temperatures of spring return. However, those that do remain are no less dangerous than the warmer weather ticks they took the place of in how very sick they can make you. These cold-weather ticks include the well-known deer tick if you live in the eastern two thirds of the country, and the brown dog tick, western blacklegged tick, or Pacific Coast tick if you live in the western third of the country. The only upside to this seemingly never-ending tick dilemma is that these remaining cold-weather ticks are usually the adults, and because they are bigger (about the size of a sesame seed) than the immature stages of ticks, they are somewhat more easily detected when crawling on you. The downside is, that because these adult ticks are older than the immature tick stages, they are also more likely to be carrying disease organisms in their bodies that they can pass on to you with their bite.


So how do you enjoy the great outdoors, whether as a participant or as a spectator in a recreational activity, when the reality is that when outside you have to be continually on your guard against ticks. You are likely to find ticks in substantial numbers in the woods, in leaf litter, at the transition edge (ecotone) of the woods with grassy, brush and garden areas, on and along stone walls, in brush and leaf piles, on tree stumps and logs, along hiking and walking trails, golf courses (especially in the rough), in dog parks, and high shrub and grass areas. Considering where ticks can be found, what common outdoor fall and winter activities can be assumed high-risk for tick bites? Unfortunately for us, these activities are pretty varied and can include such pursuits as yard cleanup and end-of-season gardening, raking leaves, jumping in leaf piles, playing in your own backyard, participating in sporting events like soccer and football, watching sporting events from the sidelines, picnicking in the park, camping, golfing, hunting, hiking, pumpkin picking, Christmas tree cutting, etc. Avoiding these hidden dangers is key to preventing getting bitten by a tick and becoming infected with a tick-borne disease. But if you cannot avoid these risky tick infested areas, there are certain prevention measures you can take to better protect yourself and your family.


When outdoors, it is recommended that you wear tick repellent clothing. The clothing should be treated with permethrin, an insecticide that can be purchased from most large sporting goods stores. Permethrin repels and kills ticks and has been approved by the EPA as safe for use on clothing apparel worn by both adults and children. You can treat your own clothing and footwear, or purchase pre-treated clothing with the proprietary Insect Shield label from suppliers such as: REI, LLBean, ExOfficio, Orvis, etc. Once per month you should also spray outdoor shoes, athletic gear, tennis bags, back packs, camping gear (anything that could end up on the ground outside) with permethrin to keep the ticks away. Wearing an EPA-approved insect repellent on exposed skin parts will also provide added protection, but by itself, does not work as effectively as tick repellent clothing At the end of the outdoor activity or certainly by the end of the day, you should conduct full body tick checks of yourself and family members who go outside. Be sure to check some of those places you are more likely to find ticks – those more moist parts of your body between your toes, behind your knees, in the navel, groin area, on your back, under your arms, back of neck, behind and in your ears, within body or neck skin folds, or on your scalp. You can never check too often, as ticks can be very hard to find. And if you do find a tick attached to you, safely remove it and seek the advice of your health care giver regarding treatment options as soon as possible. Time is of the essence. Save the tick, dead or alive and place it in a zip-lock bag. Different types of ticks carry different disease organisms, and there are labs in this country where the tick can be mailed which will identify the tick for you and test it to see if it is carrying pathogens which you may have been infected with. If you follow these recommendations and use good common sense when engaging in outdoor fall and winter activities, you can sidestep these hidden tick dangers and avoid becoming sick with very serious diseases such as Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections.

Winter Warning! Beware of Deer Ticks by Bob Oley

Outdoor enthusiasts beware! Whether you are walking your dog, playing winter golf, enjoying cross country skiing, hunting, or just going out to the woodpile to get wood for your fireplace, you need to know that deer ticks are lurking out there, just waiting for you to make an appearance. Unfortunately for all of us, deer ticks do not disappear during the winter months, and can be quite active all year round.

During the spring, summer and early fall months, the species of ticks you might encounter in different parts of the country can include the deer tick, American dog tick, Lone Star tick, Gulf Coast tick, and the Rocky Mountain Wood tick. And infectious diseases this all-star cast of ticks can transmit to people include Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, bartonellosis, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and Colorado tick fever.

Fortunately, once we enter the latter part of the fall season, most of these infected ticks disappear, with the notable exception of the deer tick. The reason for this has to do with a phase these ticks go through called diapause. As the average daytime temperatures begin to drop and the days get shorter, these ticks slow down their metabolism and stop looking for a host to feed on. Simply put, they wait out the cold winter months in the refuge of the leaf litter or some similarly protected microenvironment, and generally do not become active again until the following spring.

Regrettably for us, deer ticks do not go into this resting diapause state. Throughout the winter months, the adult female deer tick (about the size of a sesame seed) is looking for a host to get the blood meal she will need to lay her eggs in the spring before she dies. The adult male deer tick generally does not feed on a host, but is looking only to mate with his female counterpart.

The one bit of good news in this bad news scenario is that deer ticks, which are cold blooded invertebrates, will not actively look for a host to feed on if the temperature is below 32 degrees and the ground is frozen or covered with snow. However, given the number of increasingly warm winter days we are experiencing, more and more deer ticks will be looking for a host all winter long. This spells big trouble for anyone who ventures outside during the winter months – which is pretty much each and every one of us.

Deer ticks are waiting for you anywhere there is leaf litter, grass, brush and woodlands, and around your homes where they can sense the carbon dioxide in your breath, the heat of your body, and the vibrations of your steps as you walk. And once you make contact with them, they grab onto you in an instant and start climbing up your clothing until they find exposed skin into which they can insert their mouthparts for a blood meal. There they will stay attached for several days, most oftentimes on unseen areas of the body including the back of your head, hair, armpit, groin, back of the knees, navel, and your back.

Do not make the mistake of thinking you are safe from having to worry about ticks and the tick-borne diseases they carry in the colder winter months. Always be aware of your environment and maintain your guard against ticks when you enjoy outdoor activities. Carefully check yourselves, your children and your pets for ticks after coming in from outside, use insect repellents on your clothing and skin whenever possible, and protect your pets with topical sprays and spot-on products.