Ticks are most often found in wooded areas or in tall grasses, but they can be transported by animals to other areas such as short grass fields, yards, shrubs and leaf litter on the ground. These small arthropods feed on blood of animals and humans and are responsible for transmitting a variety of diseases such as Lyme disease.
In Pennsylvania, tick populations are at their highest in May, June and July. This is also the time when the transmission of Lyme disease is the most significant, possibly because the life stage of the tick at this time is no bigger than a pinhead making them difficult to see on the body. Lyme disease is not immediately transmitted from an infected tick to a human, but instead the tick must feed for 24 hours in order for the disease to be transmitted. This makes it very important to quickly find any ticks on the body and remove them. Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose as the symptoms are similar to other diseases, but it can be treated with antibiotics. Early detection is important.
While we all want to keep our children safe and free of tick bites, we can't keep them indoors all summer long! But there are several things you can do to decrease the likelihood of a tick bite on you or the children in your care.
- Wear light colored clothing when outside so ticks can be spotted more easily
- Long-sleeved shirts, long pants and hats offer more protection, especially if shirts are tucked into pants and pant legs are tucked into socks.
- Keep playground equipment and play areas away from shrubs, bushes, tall grasses and other vegetation.
- Discourage deer from entering the yard or play areas by removing plants that attract them or setting up a physical barrier. While deer are not the only animal can transport ticks, they play a large role.
- If an insect repellant is used, be sure to read, understand and follow all the instructions and precautions listed on the label.
- Most important: Perform daily tick checks on children and yourself when returning inside. Check clothing and the body for ticks, especially in and around the hair. Other places tick are commonly found: under the arms, in and around the ears and hair, back of the knees, in the belly button, the groin area, and around the waist. Educate parents about looking for ticks on their child
If a tick is found, don't panic! Remove it as soon as possible with fine-tipped tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as you can and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't squeeze the tick's body or try to jerk it off the skin. After removing the tick, wash the bite area with soap and water. Notify parents that a tick was found on their child.
For more information on the four common ticks of Pennsylvania and Lyme disease please see Penn State Extension's fact sheet.