Small bug, big risk: Protect yourself from ticks

This summer, don’t forget to protect yourself from a small, but dangerous creature likely lurking in trees, grass and bushes.

Ticks are easy to pick up when visiting grassy areas, woods, prairies, wetlands, deer trails and brushy areas.

These tiny insects can pose a big risk. Ticks are known to spread serious illnesses, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain fever. (Cases of both tick-borne illnesses have been confirmed in the state.)

Here are recommendations:

  • Choose appropriate clothing from head to toe. Wear a hat. Other recommended clothing includes a long-sleeved shirt layered over a tight undershirt and long pants with a belt. Wear boots and tuck your pant legs into them to close up any loose openings where a tick might crawl in. Wear light-colored clothing that makes it easier to spot ticks.
  • Select an insect repellant that is effective against ticks and apply it to all exposed skin. Pest management experts recommend one that contains DEET or picaridin. There are several insect repellent options.
  • If you have long hair, wear it in a braided ponytail and cover it in lotion to keep ticks from grabbing on. Tea tree oil shampoo also acts as an insect repellent.

Even with the best preventative measures in place, it’s important to follow some safety tips after returning from outdoor activities. Thoroughly check your clothing and body after going into forested or grassy areas.

Check carefully for seed ticks. The small larvae are the size of a pinhead. Wash with soap and water. High heat will kill ticks, so place washed clothes in the dryer at high heat.

If you find a tick, it is important to remove it within in the first 24 to 36 hours to prevent disease transmission. Before removing, take a picture of the tick to identify the type of tick and research what pathogens that species may carry.

Use tweezers or a piece of cloth to grasp the tick close to the skin. Avoid using matches to burn off ticks.

After removing it, wash the area with disinfectant. Follow up with a physician if symptoms of a tick-borne disease occur at any point during the month following a tick bite.

Serious symptoms include a rash or unexplained fever with flu-like symptoms (without a cough).

The University of Illinois has an I-Tick science surveillance program to gather information about ticks of public health concern in Illinois. Go online, vetmed.illinois.edu/i-tick.

The purpose of I-Tick is to develop a network of volunteers to collect data to help university researchers determine the risk of tick-borne disease based on where and when ticks occur. It includes an app that allows people to submit tick occurrences and photos by phone. Anyone in Illinois is welcome, but participants must be 18 years or older to use the Tick App.

The location where the tick was found is important to I-Tick. We require at least the county of collection to include the data in our research. All data are always kept confidential.

Download the free Tick App in Google Play or App Store, more info at thetickapp.org. Read the consent form, create an account and complete the enrollment survey.

Found a tick? Take a picture and submit it in a daily log or tick report. Entomologists will identify the tick (if at all possible) and return that information to you.

The whole process should take less than five minutes. It’s fun and easy science anyone can do while contributing to Illinois research.

Kelly Allsup is a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator serving Livingston, McLean and Woodford counties.