Grit Blogs > A Lakeside View

Ticked Off

By Cindy Murphy


Tags: Ticks, tick protection, Lyme disease, Cindy Murphy,

This past winter, I was in Saugatuck doing some Christmas shopping, and saw a man that I recognized, though I couldn’t place where or how I knew him.  “I think I should know you”, I said.  “From the nursery”, he replied, “You were helping me when you found that tick on your head, and screamed for Jan to get it off.”  Oh, yeah….how could I forget that traumatic experience?   

We had a good laugh over the incident, though I suppose it should have been somewhat embarrassing to be recognized for doing my “GET IT OFF-GET IT OFF-GET IT OFF!!!!!” dance.  At the time though, I wasn’t the least bit amused; it was the first of two ticks I found stuck to my scalp last summer.  The second time, at least, was much less dramatic….only because there was no one around to hear me scream, or see me dance.  But seriously, ticks bites can be dangerous business. 

Ticks are vectors of Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tularemia; Lyme disease is the leading vector transmitted disease in the northern hemisphere, with more than 30,000 cases reported each year, and it is becoming more widespread.  Black-legged ticks (a.k.a. deer ticks) are the only tick species that transmit the disease in the eastern and north-central United States; the western black-legged tick is the vector in the Pacific states.  

Ticks are arachnids, and are related to spiders, mites, scorpions, and other eight-legged creepy crawlies.  The black-legged tick, a “hard tick”, ambushes its host by climbing to the edge of a leaf or branch, and waiting with its front legs outstretched to latch onto the next unsuspecting “blood-meal” that passes.  This is called “questing”, and begins as early as the spring thaw, continues throughout summer and into fall.    

         Questing Tick 

Once the tick hitches a ride on the passing host, it looks for a suitable feeding site.  Favored locations are around the waistline, thighs, armpits, and head, but they are not very choosy, and may attach themselves anywhere.   

A tick may remain attached to its host for 3 to 7 days.  Removing them promptly can reduce the risk of disease transmission; ticks infected with the Lyme disease bacteria are less likely to pass it on to their hosts if removed within 48 hours. If you find one of these vampiric buggers attached to you, remove it with fine-tipped tweezers, grasping the tick as close to your skin as possible.  Carefully pull with even pressure, avoiding twisting or jerking as this can result in the tick’s head or mouthparts breaking off and remaining in the skin.  After removal, clean the bite area thoroughly with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.   

Insect repellents containing at least 20% DEET will ward off ticks.  If you’d rather not use chemicals on your body, organic choices for repelling ticks are neem oil, tea tree oil, soybean oil, and garlic pills, although testing done on these and other plant-based repellents found they are mostly ineffective protection against ticks.   

When gardening or doing other outdoor activities, the best defense may be vigilance - thoroughly check yourself, your family, and pets after being outside.  It may not be possible to avoid areas where ticks reside waiting to embrace you with arms outstretched.  It is possible, however, to avoid becoming their host.  Keep exposed skin to a minimum by wearing a hat, long pants and long-sleeved shirts.  Light-colored clothing makes it easier to spot any ticks crawling on you, looking for bare skin.  Tucking in your shirt-tails, and wearing belted pants keeps them from crawling down your waistband, and tucking your pant legs into boots or long socks prevents them from crawling up your bare legs.  No, it may not be as stylish as the latest Laura Ashley line of garden fashions, but it is less embarrassing than being caught doing the “GET IT OFF!!!! dance…..and much less hazardous to your health than contracting Lyme disease.  

Photo courtesy of Michigan State University Extension       

mary carton
4/27/2013 12:13:32 AM

I heard the same thing about bounce repelling mosquitoes and that doesn't work. I've found ticks on me afterwards. I've already found 2 this year on me and several on the dogs. Warm winter, it's going to be a nasty year.


paul macdonald
4/26/2013 10:33:22 PM

I have heard,though I haven't tried it yet, that ticks can't stand bounce dryer sheets and that by keeping one in your pocket it will repel ticks. Has any one else heard of this or tried it?


chris mclaughlin
4/26/2013 2:51:51 PM

I just wanted to add that my daughter had Lyme Disease (and Relapsing Fever) and the Dr's didn't think that's what it was because we never saw a tick to remove. Upon deeper research I found out that when these ticks pass this to you, they're no bigger than a poppy seed! Very hard to see. On top of *that* they can stay attached for a little as 15 minutes and then drop off -- so you may never know that one was ever attached to you! The doctors were nice, but they didn't know either of these things -- it took us researching to fin d more answers to get them to treat her for it. You can find more interesting information here: http://lymedisease.org/


nebraska dave
4/20/2013 9:57:09 PM

It appears that the issues with the GRIT landing page and comment section has been resolved. I'm looking forward to hearing about what has been happening on your gardening/homestead this last month. May GRIT blogs live and prosper.


cindy murphy
4/20/2013 11:07:12 AM

How horrible for you, Lori! Thank goodness you insisted the doctors check for Lyme disease. I know of a couple people who had Lyme's last summer - terrible illness it is. Not this past winter, but the winter before when it was so mild here, our dog tested positive for Lyme's; stupidly we had stopped treating her with Front Line during the colder months, thinking the ticks weren't active then. It was an unusually warm winter though, and the vet said that she'd seen more cases that year than ever before.


cindy murphy
4/20/2013 10:55:57 AM

Same here, Dave - never as a kid did I even see a tick, and we used to play in the woods all the time, and not in the nearly 15 years I've worked at the nursery, have I had a tick burrow onto me. Last year though, was a different story - I suppose there's a first time for everything, but this is one first I could have done without. Same here too with the weather - rain and snow mix here yesterday, accompanied by a bitter wind. Nothing is supposed to change today. Here's to warmer days - I'm looking forward to seeing the cheery faces of daffodils.


cindy murphy
4/20/2013 10:35:31 AM

Seems to be working fine now, Dave - no left shift. Yesterday though, a song popped in my head that the kids used to dance to; I hadn't heard it in years, but somehow it got stuck in my brain all day long....To the left, to the left, to the left, to the left, Now kick, now kick, now kick, now kick, Now walk it by yourself, now walk it by yourself......Thankfully, I did not feel the need to dance around the nursery; it would have been just as embarrassing as the "Get it off" dance if someone had seen me.


nebraska dave
4/19/2013 12:25:23 PM

That was supposed to be checking the reply button.


nebraska dave
4/19/2013 12:24:03 PM

hicking the reply button to see if that works.


nebraska dave
4/19/2013 12:23:00 PM

Check check does this work. Just checking to see if comments can be posted even with the shift to the left.


lori dunn
4/18/2013 11:10:33 PM

Cindy, I hate these nasty little critters. I had Lyme's disease some years ago, before it was as common as it is now. I started having joint pain in various places along with a few other things. The doctors ran all different tests and couldn't find anything. I have a girlfriend who also had Lyme's. She told me my symptoms sounded just like hers, so I mentioned this to the doctors. They didn't think my problem was Lyme's, but I pretty much insisted they check. They called me that night with the lab results, positive for Lyme's disease. The doctors were shocked and hadn't thought that's what was wrong. I went on 3 weeks of antibiotics, and that took care of it for me, thank God. It is much more common now, and the doctors check quicker for it. My problem was I had no rash or bite mark that I could find. I know they can be very small, but it still gives me the heeby-geebys to think I had one of those little buggers attached to me long enough to pass the disease and I never knew it!


nebraska dave
4/18/2013 10:35:34 PM

Cindy, I'm sure glad to see the blog site back up .... sorta kinda. Hopefully as blog posts come in, the main page will straighten itself out. Yes, it is indeed the tick season here too. In all my adventurous youth years and mature, (ok, well grown up years), I've only had maybe two ticks that tried to attach themselves to me. Both times I felt their little crawly arachnid legs trying to find the sweet spot and was able to squash their little bodies before they started blood sucking. We had snow flurries here all day today with rain and wind mixed in at times. We will get a semi break tomorrow and then back to rain and cold temperatures. My daffodils really stood up to the weather this year. They have endured freezing temperature almost every night; they made it through a marble size hail storm; and they have been whipped by the wind. All this and they are standing high as if nothing has happened to them. I guess that's why I like them so much. They are a tough flower that's easy to grow and lights up the spring time with bright colors. Next up will be the tulips. They are in the big fat bud stage so it won't be long before they will be displaying their bold colors in competition with the Daffs. Have the best garden day that you can.