Tips for Preventing Tick Bites

When walking in the woods, be aware of ticks.

Many of us are aware that tick safety is important, but may not be sure how to best protect ourselves from tick bites. With the number of ticks growing rapidly, don't miss these suggestions for preventing tick bites.

Now that warmer weather has arrived in Vermont, you may be itching to get out in the woods for a walk or to go camping. Before you set off for your favorite forest, you should take a few precautions to make sure you don’t come back with an unwelcome guest that can make you sick.

Ticks are increasing rapidly in Vermont, and so are cases of Lyme disease and other illnesses that ticks can carry. Vermont had the second highest incidence rate of Lyme disease in 2019, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only Maine had a larger number of confirmed cases per 100,000 persons.

You can protect yourself and your family members by practicing tick safety. Following these simple steps will help you avoid being bitten and keep ticks from ruining your outdoor fun.

Property Modifications

Ticks are usually found in the woods or adjacent areas. They like places with brush or high grass where they can climb up and wait for a host to come along. They are less likely to be found in sunny areas. If you own property, there are several modifications you can do to reduce the number of ticks:

  • Cut back brush around yards and trails.
  • Remove leaf litter wherever possible so that ticks have fewer places to hide.
  • Mow grass frequently to give ticks less cover.
  • Create a barrier between the woods and your lawn by laying down a strip of stone, gravel, mulch, or wood chips.
  • Discourage wildlife that are hosts for ticks, such as deer and mice, by removing food sources. If deer are a problem, consider putting up deer fencing.

Clothing and Repellants

There are several things you can do to make yourself a less hospitable host for ticks:

  • Treat clothes you wear outdoors with permethrin. You can buy this effective tick repellant online or in sporting goods stores. Spray on the outside of shoes, socks, pants, and shirts and let dry before wearing. Never apply permethrin directly to your skin. Be sure to read the package instructions, as there are limits on how much can be used and exposure is not approved for babies younger than two months. 
  • Apply insect repellant with approved ingredients for skin, such as DEET or picaridin.  
  • Wear pants and long-sleeve shirts to keep ticks off your skin.
  • Wear light-colored clothing so that it’s easier to see a tick and brush it off. White socks are especially good for this.
  • Tuck your pants into your socks to keep ticks from getting inside and crawling up your legs. Likewise, tuck your shirt into your pants.

Checking and Removal

When you are visiting areas where ticks live, get in the habit of doing these things:

  • Stay on trails and avoid brushy or grassy areas, if possible.
  • Occasionally check for ticks on your clothes. It’s easier to remove them before they have a chance to get too far.
  • Put clothes into the dryer immediately upon returning home and run the dryer on high heat to kill any ticks.
  • Examine your gear to find and remove any ticks (you can spray permethrin on gear beforehand to repel ticks).
  • Shower after coming inside to wash off ticks that may be on you.
  • Check your body for ticks by using a mirror. Don’t forget to check places where a tick may be hiding, including your groin, underarms, belly button, ears, and hair. In addition to visual inspection, you can also run your fingers along your skin to feel for any small bumps, which may be a tick that has dug in. If you have children or pets, be sure to check them as well.
  • Remove ticks immediately with tweezers or a tick removal tool. If you’ve been bitten, grab the tick by the head as close to the skin as possible and pull out. Avoid squeezing the tick by its body so its fluids don’t get pushed into you. Wash the bite area with soap and warm water. 
  • Dispose of live ticks to keep them from biting again. Once a tick is out, you can flush it down the toilet or put it in rubbing alcohol to kill it.

If you have been bitten by a tick, once it is removed, it is important to remain vigilant for any signs of disease. Check for rashes, which can be an indicator. However, not everyone who has been bitten by a tick gets a rash, so watching for other symptoms is also important. Those may include fever, chills, headache, joint pain, muscle aches, or fatigue. If you are not feeling well, see your doctor as soon as possible to get tested.