The return of the soggy weather is also prime time for a second wave of Lyme disease symptoms to arise, but that doesn’t mean that ticks are dormant. In many milder places they remain active all winter, only you’re less likely to be rambling through the forests in shorts when it’s close to zero outside. So where do ticks live and how can you best avoid them all year round?
Where to Find Ticks
Ticks are not fans of hot, dry, exposed areas and are found, instead, in tall grasses, forest undergrowth, and lawns, stone walls, flower beds and orchards. If there is shade, dense shrubbery that stays humid all day, and a local population of white footed mice, deer, or migratory birds then there are likely to be ticks not too far away.
When they’re looking for a meal, ticks will stray from the damp bush and climb up to the tips of taller grasses that overhang paths where animals (including us humans) may pass. This is why tick-avoidance emphasises sticking to the centre of paths and limiting exposure to overhanging shrubbery and plant life. Ticks may also be lurking in leaf mulch on the ground, having fallen off the fur of a previous host animal and lying in wait for a new host.
Tick Checks for All the Family
Dogs that pad through the forest trails may get ticks embedded in between their toes, or the ticks may clamber up and nestle behind their shoulders or even in their ears or groin. Checking your dog for ticks after a walk is routine practice for many people in New England and other Lyme disease hotspots, and even those in Ontario and other regions that have not previously been seen as having a Lyme disease problem are now waking up to the importance of preventative tick checking.
Lyme Disease Transmission
Ticks feed on blood but must usually remain attached to their host for at least 24 hours before Lyme disease bacteria are transmitted. However, in some cases (particularly in Europe) ticks carry the bacteria in their saliva rather than the gut, meaning that transmission can happen more quickly. This demonstrates the need to do immediate checks after being outside in areas where ticks may lurk.
Less Obvious Risky Behaviour Leading to Lyme Disease
The irony is that many Lyme disease infections are not from having been bitten by a tick on a country walk but rather acquiring a tick bite when dashing out onto the lawn to retrieve the washing. Few people will consider pulling on long socks and pants, using tick-repellant, and doing a tick check after simply wandering into their back yard, but lounging on the grass barefoot is a sure fire way to increase your risk of tick exposure.
Ticks in the House
Ticks inject a little anaesthetic substance into the skin of their host in order to give them the best chance to stay attached unnoticed. A tick bite received in the back yard may, then, lead to bacterial transmission, or the tick may simply get knocked off and wander the house to find a new host. Dogs, cats, children, visitors, and partners can all bring ticks into the house unawares. Regular vacuuming and checking of base boards can help eliminate ticks.
The Difficulty of Spotting Ticks
With ticks being the size of a poppy seed at the point where they are most likely to bite and infect humans, it is obviously difficult to spot them and remove them promptly. Reducing exposure to ticks can mean limiting use of areas where ticks live, using effective tick repellants, and dressing appropriately for tick avoidance.