Loftin: Ticks are Bad This Summer, but There are Ways to Avoid Bites

Lone star tick: male on left and female on right.
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Lone star tick: male on left and female on right.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Springtime heat is here and with it has come an abundance of ticks, as anyone who has stepped outside in Arkansas has probably noticed.

Kelly Loftin, associate professor of entomology in the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said a cold winter did not kill off the pests, which can cause serious illnesses, including some that are fatal if not treated. Ticks can also cause serious illnesses in pets and other domestic animals.

“Long, cold winters may reduce the populations of some arthropods, but not so for ticks,” said Loftin, who is an extension entomologist specializing in pest management. “Tick species found in Arkansas have adapted to survive harsh winters. Some tick species survive in leaf litter, soil or other protected sites. Others may survive the winter on a host animal.”

Dog tick: male on left and female

The most common species are lone star ticks and American dog ticks, according to Loftin. Other species common to Arkansas are the blacklegged tick, winter tick, Gulf Coast tick and brown dog tick.

One tick-borne disease, the Heartland virus, has been reported in Oklahoma, Missouri and Tennessee, and is linked to the lone star tick. Loftin said the lone star tick may also transmit southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), ehrlichiosis and tularemia. The American dog tick is the primary carrier of Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Most tick species are “three-host ticks” – meaning each stage (larva, nymph and adult) feed on a different host.

Kelly Loftin, associate professor of entomology

“Immature lone star ticks generally feed on small and intermediate-sized hosts (birds, rodents, coyotes, dogs, etc.) that inhabit the ground,” said Loftin. “Large animals, such as cattle, deer and horses, generally serve as hosts for lone star adults. Host preference aside, lone star tick larva, nymphs and adults are also opportunistic feeders and will readily feed on humans.”

The chance of contracting a tick-borne illness is greatly reduced if the insect is removed within a few hours after it bites. Loftin suggests using clean, fine-tipped tweezers, and pulling upward with steady pressure. Do not twist or jerk, which may cause mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin.

“Thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water after removing a tick,” said Loftin.

Loftin earned his bachelor’s degree in fish and wildlife management from Arkansas Tech University in 1984, his master’s degree in entomology from the University of Arkansas in 1987 and his doctorate in entomology from New Mexico State University in 1991

He offered the following tips to avoid tick bites:

  • Avoid dense vegetation, tall grass and zones where open fields meet forested areas, all possible tick-infested areas.
  • Use tick repellants containing DEET or clothing-only repellents containing permethrin and follow the label instructions.
  • Find and remove ticks. Check yourself, your children and pets frequently for ticks. Wear light-colored clothing in tick-infested areas. Bathe or shower as soon as possible after returning from tick-infested areas to wash off crawling ticks and locate attached ticks.
  • Create a tick-safe zone in your yard by clearing tall grass and brush around homes, and at the edge of lawns.
  • A three-foot-wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas will restrict tick migration into yards.
  • Mow frequently, keep leaves raked, stack wood neatly and remove old furniture, mattresses or trash from yards.
  • Examine gear – ticks can ride into homes on clothing, pets, backpacks, etc.
  • Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.

Kelly Loftin, associate professor of entomology
Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sci

Robby Edwards, director of communications
Bumpers College

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