The Everyday Home: Protecting the family against ticks

Sonya McDaniel, extension educator, FCS/CED
Pottawatomie County Extension Service

With spring officially here and summer waiting anxiously for its turn, Oklahoma families heading outdoors to enjoy the warmer temperatures should take extra care to protect themselves against ticks.

Ticks are active year-round throughout the state, but from now through the end of summer, hard ticks will be especially active, said Justin Talley, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension livestock entomologist.

“We’re mostly concerned about American dog tick and the lone star tick during this time of year because these two are involved with tick-borne pathogens,” Talley said.

Oklahoma is a hub for tick-borne disease. In fact, the state carries some of the highest infection rates in the nation for tularemia, ehrlichiosis and Spotted Fever Group rickettsiosis, which includes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Also, the lone star tick is associated with multiple pathogens, including those connected to the Heartland and Bourbon viruses, which have been identified in Oklahoma within the last five years.

Ticks are not discerning when it comes to hosts, which means anyone who is outside, whether for work or play, is at risk for being bitten.

The most effective repellants are products with at least 25 percent DEET.

“If you’re going to be in areas where ticks also are likely to be, apply repellant especially around the ankles, up to the knees and around the waistline,” Talley said. “If you’ll be in heavy brush, like trimming trees or bushes, also put repellant around the neck and all the way to the ankles because ticks will fall out of that vegetation.”

Some natural, plant-based products, such as citrus oil and lemon grass oil, also can serve as repellants. While these options are less effective than DEET, parents may prefer using natural products on children.

“Some parents don’t like putting DEET on their kids, so if you put these natural products on them, make sure to apply it in the areas ticks will target, especially around their ankles and waistlines,” Talley said. “Both adults and children will need to keep reapplying natural products to boost their effectiveness.”

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