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Stamm: How to protect yourself from ticks

If you spend a significant amount of time outdoors in the summer, chances are you have had a few tick encounters.

Ticks are parasites that must have three blood meals during their lifetime to develop and reproduce. Kentucky is an ideal environment for ticks as we have forests, humidity and a large deer population. 

The three most common ticks in Kentucky are the lone star tick, American dog tick and the blacklegged tick. The vast majority of bites from these ticks are just itchy nuisances that last between seven to 10 days, but a small percentage of bites can cause serious allergic reactions and illnesses.  

Lone star ticks are the most common ticks in the state. You can identify female lone star ticks by the white spot on their backs. Males are reddish-brown. Lone star ticks are vectors of human ehrlichiosis, a bacterial disease, and alpha-gal syndrome, known as the “red meat allergy.” All developmental stages of the tick will feed on humans. Unlike other tick species that lie in wait for a host, lone star ticks actively seek out a blood meal.

The blacklegged tick is the only species that tends to be active year-round in Kentucky. It is the only vector of Lyme disease. Blacklegged ticks have a reddish-brown body, a dark head, long mouth parts and dark legs. Males have a dark plate that covers their whole body, while females have a dark plate that covers half of their body.

The American dog tick is the primary vector of Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It is reddish brown with mottled white markings on its back. Only adult American dog ticks feed on humans.

You can minimize your chances of getting a tick bite by not walking through or brushing against high grass, brush or other tick-prone areas. You can wear a tick repellent that contains between 20% to 30% DEET on exposed skin and use a repellent containing permethrin on your clothing and gear. Wear light-colored clothing, as this makes ticks easier to see. Tuck long pants into your socks or boots to minimize the chances of ticks attaching to your pant legs.

Many times, ticks find their way indoors through our pets. Reduce your pet’s chances of attracting ticks by using a tick collar, spray or shampoo or a monthly “top spot” medication.

Promptly finding and removing ticks is key to reducing your chances of contracting Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. Ticks must be attached to humans for several hours before they transmit these diseases.

While outdoors, you should check yourself and your friends, family members and pets for ticks every two to three hours and again after you return home. Some of the most common places to find them are behind your ears, hair, neck, legs and around your waist. If ticks are found, the best way to remove them is by using a fine-tipped tweezer. 

More information on ticks is available by calling the Clark County Extension Office at  744-4682 or the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

Source: Jonathan Larson, UK Extension Entomologist. Clay Stamm is a Clark County Cooperative Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources.

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email fred.petke@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0051.

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