Protecting Yourself from Tick-Borne Diseases
Ed Brandt and Candace Brassard - Office of Pesticide Programs, EPA
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Tick Bite and Lyme Disease Prevention Advice from the EPA
There are hundreds of tick
species in the world that are capable of transmitting
pathogens. The pathogens transmitted by such tick species
cause over 65 diseases, many of them serious. While Lyme disease
and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are the most well known of the
tick-borne diseases, other diseases include Colorado tick fever,
Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, Southern tick-associated rash illness,
Tickborne relapsing fever and Tularemia. Thus, ticks are considered
to be a significant public health pest. The increased
occurrence of Lyme disease, as well as other tick borne diseases,
is raising awareness and concern about the impact of these diseases
on public health.
Lyme disease historically affects people of two very different
age groups. Children (5-9 years old) are at highest risk (boys more
than girls), followed by older adults (60-70 years old). Reported
cases peak in June and July. Spring is the season of highest risk
because immature ticks are active, extremely small (the size of a
poppy seed) and hard to find. People are exposed to ticks
through typical outdoor activities including hiking, playing games,
golfing, horseback riding and even gardening.
An ounce of
It is important to know about tick habitats and personal
protection techniques because most people are exposed to ticks in
residential areas. Here are a few ways to prevent ticks:
1. Keep the lawn mowed to make your property unattractive to
ticks. Ticks are found in high grass, yards with trees and
2. Keep backyard grasses set back from the woods around a home
by eight feet. Place a three-foot wood chip, gravel or mulch border
area between grassy edges and tick-prone zones. Ticks prefer moist
areas like leaf litter and the edge of woods. Ticks don't like the
sun and wait in shady areas on brush and grasses.
3. Practice personal protection. Personal protection involves
using repellents, wearing appropriate clothing and checking for
ticks on one's person, which is the most effective practice of all.
In tick habitats, wear long, light-colored pants tucked into socks
or boots, and long-sleeved shirts. This keeps ticks from reaching
the skin and makes them easier to see. Ticks like places on humans
that are warm and moist, most commonly the backs of the knees,
armpits, the groin, the scalp, the back of the neck, and behind the
ears. Attached ticks should be removed as soon as possible using
fine-point tweezers since risk of disease transmission is increased
the longer the tick is attached.
areas for Lyme disease
tick (also called the Deer tick) is found throughout the United
States. The Yale School of Public Health published a map that shows a clear risk of Lyme disease across
much of the Northeast, from Maine to northern Virginia. It also
identifies a high-risk region in the upper Midwest (particularly in
Minnesota and Wisconsin).
Ticks can move over long distances by attaching to migrating
birds. When they detach in the new location, they colonize the
local area, feeding on deer, mice, squirrels and chipmunks.
Climate and the location of hosts determine where ticks thrive.
If average temperatures continue to increase over the coming
decades, the areas where ticks live will continue to expand
northward. In the 1990s, blacklegged ticks were virtually unknown
in Canada, but today they are sometimes found in large numbers.
Suburbanization has increased deer densities by breaking up forests
and reducing hunting. Loss of biodiversity has also been correlated
to increased presence of tick hosts and infected ticks.
Predicting tick outbreaks is still an emerging science. University of Rhode
Island entomologist Thomas Mather says that high humidity this
June may lead to more ticks, more bites and more cases of Lyme
disease. If the humidity is low, ticks dry out and die, reducing
the threat. (TickEncounter Resource Center).
Experts such as Richard Ostfeld with the Cary Institute of
Ecosystem Studies are concerned that this spring may bring a
"significant increase" in the number of cases of Lyme disease
in the New York area. Looking at a cause-and-effect timeline from
the past few years, the bumper crop of acorns in 2010 led to a
bumper year for mice in 2011. Mice are a primary host for
ticks. In 2011, however, lower acorn counts meant fewer mice
for 2012. Thus, the ticks will look for other hosts, including
people. Additionally, this year's mild winter temperatures
mean an early arrival in tick activity. It should be noted, though,
that caution and awareness are important during any year.
Early warning systems are being developed that include but are
not limited to: 1) field monitoring by governmental agencies; 2)
pet data reported by veterinarians; and 3) collection stations for
CDC tick and
tick-borne disease information
Using Insect Repellents Safely
Parasite Prevalence maps for tick borne diseases in
dogs and cats
Managing Ticks and Preventing Tick Bites
Ed Brandt: A statistician and
economist, Ed is the former leader of the landscaping and
structural pest sectors in EPA's Pesticide Environmental
Stewardship Program (PESP) within the Biopesticides and Pollution
Prevention Division, Office of Pesticide Programs. He led the PESP
program promoting IPM to reduce Tick Borne Diseases the past 5
years, working with federal and state agencies as well as
Candace Brassard: As a senior
biologist for the Field and External Affairs Division, Office of
Pesticide Programs,Candy leads two working groups for federal and
state and agencies as well as non-profit organizations. The goal of
the working groups is to continue to promote IPM to reduce Tick
Candy and Ed have partnered for the past 5 years, resulting in a
25 member network, a federal partnership with 9 agencies, and a
Tick Conference in March 2011.
The views presented in this article are the views
of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the United States.
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