Ticks

American Dog TickTicks feed on the blood of animals (such as rodents, rabbits, deer, and birds), but will bite humans too. When they do, they can sometimes transmit serious and potentially fatal diseases like Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and tularemia.

The best prevention against tick-borne diseases is to avoid them if possible by staying out of wooded areas with tall grasses or bushes and using insect repellent on clothing and exposed skin. You should also check yourself  and your pets for ticks after spending time outdoors.

While it is a good idea to take preventive measures against ticks year-round, be extra vigilant in warmer months (April-September) when ticks are most active.

Below you will find more information about ticks, the disease they carry, how to avoid them and other helpful resources.

Biology

Ticks are found in grassy, brushy areas where they wait for a host to pass by.  They are especially prevalent along paths used by animals.  Ticks are not choosy about their host and often get onto a person’s leg.  They crawl upward on the body, looking for a place to attach.  Their populations are greater in the spring and summer following a mild winter.

Tick diagramTicks have a 4-stage life cycle: 1) egg, 2) larvae, 3) nymph, and 4) adult.  The nymph and adult forms are able to attach to humans and other animals and possibly transmit diseases.

A tick bite is not painful and may go unnoticed.  In most cases, the tick simply bites, draws blood for its nourishment, and drops off.  If the tick happens to be infected, the infectious agent is transmitted during the feeding process.  It is important to realize the majority of ticks are not infected.

Tick Diseases

Many of the diseases transmitted by ticks can be treated effectively when caught early, so see your doctor right away if you have a fever, rash or flu-like symptoms after being in tick-infested areas.

Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick. Frequent tick checks increase the likelihood of finding a tick before it can transmit disease.

For more information on tick-borne diseases, click on the tabs below.

Babesiosis

Tick:  Black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis); Smallest tick in Indiana; Appears from September to November

Agent:  parasite Babesia microti

Incubation:  1 week to months after bite

Initial Symptoms:  Fever, chills, sweats, headache, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea, or fatigue

Other Symptoms:  Jaundice, dark urine

Learn more about Babesiosis

 

Erlichiosis

Tick:  Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum); White-tailed deer are a major host

Agent:  Ehrlichia chaffeensis

Incubation:  5 – 10 days after bite

Initial Symptoms:

  • Fever, headache, malaise, and muscle aches

Other Symptoms:

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cough, joint pains, confusion, and occasionally rash

Learn more about Erlichiosis

Lyme Disease

Tick:  Black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis); Smallest tick in Indiana; Appears from September to November

Agent:  Borrelia burgdorferi

Incubation:  3 – 30 days after bite

Initial Symptoms:

  • “Bulls-eye” rash, tiredness, fever, headache, stiff neck, muscle ache, and joint pain

Later Symptoms:

  • Arthritis, large joint swelling and pain, neurologic abnormalities, and encephalitis

Learn more about Lyme Disease.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Tick:  American dog tick (Dermacentor variablis); Largest tick in Indiana; Most prevalent in Allen County; Appears from April to July; Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) can also carry and transmit RMSF

Agent:  Rickettsia ricketsii

Incubation:  5 – 10 days after bite

Initial Symptoms:

  • Fever, nausea, vomiting, severe headache, muscle pain, and lack of appetite

Later Symptoms:

  • Rash, abdominal pain, joint pain, and diarrhea

Learn more about Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Tularemia

Ticks: American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), the wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), and the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum)

Agent: Bacterium, Francisella tularensis

Incubation: 3 to 5 days after bite, but can take as long as 14 days

Symptoms: The signs and symptoms of tularemia vary depending on how the bacteria enters the body. Most common form of tularemia occurs following a tick or deer fly bite or after handing of an infected animal. A skin ulcer appears at the site where the organism entered the body. The ulcer is accompanied by swelling of regional lymph glands, usually in the armpit or groin.

Learn more about Tularemia.

Avoiding Ticks

You can reduce the number of ticks in your yard by removing leaf litter, brush and woodpiles around the house and at the edges of yards, mowing frequently and clearing trees and brush to admit more sunlight. Tick populations have also been effectively reduced through the use of pesticides, if applied safely.

Tick Other prevention measures include:

  • Avoid tick-infested areas, particularly wooded or bushy areas with tall grasses and leaf litter.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and tuck pants into boots or socks. It’s also a good idea to wear light-colored clothing so ticks can be seen.
  • Apply insect repellents containing 20 to 30% DEET to exposed skin. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth. Always follow label instructions.Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5% permethrin.
  • Check your body thoroughly for ticks after spending time outdoors.Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
  • Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs.

Removing Ticks

It’s a good idea to bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.Then conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body.

If you find a tick, remove it right away by doing the following:

  • Use tweezers.  Grasp the tick by the head as close as possible to the skin and pull upward with steady, even pressure.  Do not twist, jerk or squeeze the tick. Never use fingernail polish, alcohol or hot matches to remove a tick.
  • Thoroughly clean and and disinfect the bite area with soap and water, rubbing alcohol, or an iodine scrub. Be sure to wash your hands as well.
  • Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.

Tick Identification

The Department of Health is not able to test ticks for disease.  We can identify the tick and provide information on what diseases it could carry.  If symptoms appear, a physician can be informed what kind of tick it was and disease the tick could carry.  Then appropriate treatment can occur.

CDC has also developed a smartphone application to help health care providers to access concise, comprehensive, and updated information about the prevention, identification, and treatment of tickborne diseases.  This application is a companion to the printed manual, “Tickborne Diseases of the United States: A Reference Guide for Health Care Providers”.

Please call our Vector Control & Environmental Services division at (260) 449-7549 for more information or help with identifying ticks.

Educational Resources

Below are links to videos and publications related to ticks.

Lyme Disease: One man’s experience (CDC)

“Tick Check 1-2” Lyme Disease Prevention Rap (Fairfax County Health Department)