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Ticks aren’t social distancing: Here’s how to protect yourself

Cornell University
23-Apr-2020 11:25 AM EDT, by Cornell University

Spring is here and being outdoors is important, especially in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic – but it’s important to remember both ticks and people are active outside. The following experts offer important tips on tick awareness and how prevent their bites while enjoying the outdoors. 

Laura Harrington is a professor of entomology, vector biologist, and the Director of the CDC Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases (NEVBD).


Harrington says:

“There hasn’t been a notable change in distribution or density reported over the past year, with the exception of the Asian longhorned tick, which is a new invasive tick moving into New York state and expanding its range. So far, it hasn’t been found infected with human pathogens, but it does transmit a hemorrhagic viral disease in Asia.  

“A bacterial infection that causes Lyme disease is the most important tickborne human infection in the U.S. with around 200-300,000 reported cases per year. The blacklegged tick or ‘deer tick’ is the vector of Lyme disease in most of the U.S. It can also transmit other pathogens to people and pets including the agents that cause babesiosis, anaplasmosis and Powassan disease. Blacklegged ticks are most common in forested areas and shaded trail edges with abundant leaf litter and shrubby plants. 

“Personal protection measures are important to consider before going outside. You should wear repellent, light-colored clothing and tuck your pantlegs into your socks. You can also treat your clothing with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated clothing.

“It’s also important to check yourself for ticks often. For Lyme Disease, time is on your side. It usually takes 24-48 hours after the tick has attached and started feeding before it can transmit Lyme bacteria. For some other pathogens, like Powassan virus, transmission can happen quickly, so check yourself periodically for attached ticks even when you are still outside.

“Look for ticks all over your body and even on your back, neck and hairline. If you find a tick, remove it carefully with sharp tweezers by grasping the tick as close to where it is attached to the skin as possible and pulling. Once you are back inside, remove your clothing and place it in a hot dryer for at least 20 minutes, if possible. Ticks are vulnerable to drying out and the combination of dry heat will kill them. If you cannot place your clothing in a dryer right away, you can place it in a sealed garbage bag for later drying. This is also a good time to take a shower and perform a tick check.”


Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann is an entomologist whose work focuses on integrated pest management.


Gangloff-Kaufmann says:

“With our latest mild winter, ticks have been active in much of the region on warmer days all winter long. It is too early to know what population trends we will see in 2020, but we can count on there being just as many or more ticks than last year as ticks are expanding their geographic rage into colder regions.

“With the current pandemic and stay-at-home rules, many are finding the need to be outdoors and can possibly be exposed to ticks, as parks and hiking trails are still open. It’s important to know how to recognize a tick, take preventive steps, and do a tick check each time you go out. Although ticks aren’t everywhere, they can be anywhere so be aware of your surroundings. 

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