By Laura Jesse
Iowa State University
It’s a spring day and you just got back from a walk in the woods, when suddenly you notice a dark speck on your arm and try to brush it off. But it doesn’t move. You look closer and realize it is a tick biting you – what do you do? First of all, do not panic, removing a tick is easy. Grasp the tick with a pair of tweezers as close to the head as possible and pull it straight out of your skin. Do not apply anything to the tick before removal (alcohol, petroleum jelly or a burnt match stick) because this can irritate the tick and possibly cause it to regurgitate saliva into your skin. There is very little risk of pulling the tick apart and leaving the head imbedded, and if you do the head can be easily removed by a physician.
There are three ticks found in Iowa; the lone star tick, the American dog tick and the black-legged tick (deer tick). The American dog tick and lone star tick are the most common. The lone star tick, named for the prominent white dot on the back of the adult female, is very abundant in south central and southeast U.S. Over the past several years this tick has started to become fairly abundant in Iowa, especially in the southern half of the state.
All ticks go through an egg, larva, nymph and adult stage during their development. While they may be found throughout the year, adults are most active during late April through May. The larva, nymph and adult stages must each have a blood meal before they can develop to the next stage. The American dog tick, lone star tick, and black-legged tick have a fairly wide host range. Adults commonly infest both large and medium-sized animals such as dogs, cattle, deer and raccoons. The immature stages may feed on these same hosts but prefer to infest smaller mammals such as mice, squirrels and chipmunks. All stages of these ticks will feed on humans if given the opportunity.
The lone star tick and American dog tick are not considered human health threats in Iowa. Neither tick transmits Lyme disease. Both of these ticks are capable of transmitting Rocky Mountain spotted fever, however this disease is rare in Iowa. To be safe, any flu-like symptoms that occur within two weeks following the bite of any tick should be reported to a physician.
The black-legged tick (deer tick) does transmit Lyme disease. Although most are not infected with the Lyme disease bacteria, it is still important to remove any attached ticks. Transmission of Lyme disease does not usually take place until the tick has been attached to a host for over 24 hours. Regurgitation of saliva during removal could theoretically increase the risk of disease transmission; this is why it is important to use only tweezers when removing ticks.
When walking in areas likely to contain ticks (woods, tall grass), the best way to avoid the ticks is to tuck your pant legs into your socks and spray around your ankles and on your shoes with an insect repellant. When returning indoors you should remove and launder your clothing and inspect your body for any ticks. Any ticks found attached to your skin should be pulled straight out with tweezers.