Ticks creep out most people, for good reasons. Aroused by your approach, they’re waiting on ends of grass or other vegetation with legs reaching out for a chance to latch on and scurry for a meal in a quiet spot, such as in the hair on your head or other intimate places.
These arachnids have cutting mouth parts that look like medieval weapons. Left undetected on humans or other animals, they’ll have an orgy in the “quiet place” before slicing into the host’s skin, tapping a capillary, consuming a feast of blood and possibly spitting a disease-carrying pathogen into the host’s bloodstream. Sweet.
An attached tick is remarkably efficient at getting just what it wants, said Jeb Owen, a professor of medical and veterinary entomology at Washington State.
It separates the fluid from the blood and fills its gut only with red blood cells while expelling the liquid back into the host, he said.
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That exchange may, in some cases, transmit pathogens that can cause diseases.
Most notorious of the tick-borne ailments is Lyme disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report about 20,000 cases are confirmed annually, mostly in the eastern half of the United States where Ixodes scapularis, the tick mostly associated with the disease, is common.
The Rocky Mountain wood tick that’s common in the Inland Northwest is not known to be a vector for Lyme disease. However, the Ixodes pacifica found in Western Washington can transmit the pathogen, but to a much lesser degree than ticks in the East.
- Use tweezers (or thumb and forefinger carefully) to pinch the head of an embedded tick right at the skin and pull it straight out, said Jeb Owen, WSU entomologist. “You don’t want to squeeze the tick’s body and expel the contents of its abdomen into the host’s bloodstream.”
- Applying heat, oil or other wives-tale methods will not effectively remove an attached tick, he said.
- Reduce the risk of tick bites by wearing long-sleeve shirts, long pants and treating clothing with Permethrin insecticide and skin with insect repellent containing DEET.
- Check for ticks regularly on your body and on your dog. The risk of a tick transmitting disease is lower the sooner it is detected and removed.