Tick Tips: Information and Best Practices to Keep You and Your Family Safe and Healthy

By Jeremy DeLisle, UNH Cooperative Extension Education Center Program Coordinator

Note:  The information provided in this article has been adapted from The Biology and Management of Ticks by Alan Eaton, Ph.D., UNH Cooperative Extension Entomologist.

Q:  My family loves to spend time during the warmer months in our yard and walking in the woods, but I’m increasingly concerned about ticks and tick-borne illnesses, like Lyme disease. What can I do to minimize risks?  -- Betty G., Manchester, NH

A:  Dealing with ticks and tick-borne illness is a reality for many people in New Hampshire who enjoy spending time outdoors. According to 2014 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New Hampshire ranks seventh in the nation in the number of Lyme disease cases reported per 100,000 people. Fortunately, you can minimize risk of tick bites and tick-borne illness with some basic information and good practices.

Although New Hampshire is home to several different species of tick, it is primarily the black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, which transmits Lyme disease in the state. While tick activity begins as soon as snow melts and temperatures rise above 40 degrees, the threat posed by black-legged ticks is highest from May to mid-July, during their juvenile or nymphal stage, and again from October to December, when they’re adults.

Dress for protection

When in tall grass and wooded, brushy areas that are prime tick habitat, protect yourself taking these steps:

  • Wear shoes that completely cover your feet (no sandals)
  • Tuck long pants into your socks
  • Consider wearing gaiters, which are made of stretchy material that fits over the laces and tops of boots, or tall rubber boots that can hold tucked pant legs securely
  • Wear a long sleeved shirt with snug collar and cuffs and tuck it in at the waist
  • Choose light colored clothing, which will make ticks more visible
  • Consider applying an insect repellant or wearing repellant-treated clothing

During tick season, it’s good practice to monitor yourself, your children, and pets for ticks every day.  

Use a full length mirror or ask a family member to help check for ticks on your back and other difficult to see areas. Don’t neglect your head, especially if you have long hair. Ticks tend to crawl upward, and if they can’t get inside your clothing, they will end up on your head or neck.

Dry, mowed vegetation are low-risk zones

There are a number of steps you can take on your property to make vegetation and leaf litter dry out faster, which will make it less favorable for ticks. Keep your lawn trimmed, and mow a strip between play areas and thick brush. Remov­ing dense brush is also helpful.

A second technique is to reduce human contact with the tall grass or thick brush that holds ticks. Widen paths through the woods, move play equipment away from the woods edge, and mow the edges of paths. You might consid­er using black plastic landscape netting or other fencing to limit people from walking into thick vegetation along paths.

Pesticides can reduce outdoor populations

There are many products that can be sprayed outdoors to kill ticks. The pesticide label will indicate where and how these should be used. The perimeter of yards, shaded perennial beds, along woods trails, and stone walls are important target areas. Lawns are not important areas to spray because they are too dry for tick habitat. A sprayer that has enough pressure to turn over leaves and vegetation and reach into crevices is most effective. You may want to consider hiring a professional pesticide applicator.

Removing ticks safely requires patience and skill

Should you find an attached tick, use tweezers to grasp the tick rather than using bare fingers to avoid potential contact with a disease-causing organism. Firmly grasp the tick as close to its head as possible, and pull gently, using slow, steady pressure. Do not yank it or pull it sideways, since this could cause its head to break off inside the wound. It might take as long as a minute or two for removal.

Some people find it easier to use a plastic tick spoon specifically designed for tick removal. You slide the spoon under the attached tick, fitting its mouthparts into the v-shaped notch. Then hold the body of the tick down with your thumb, and gently roll the handle of the spoon down, using leverage to pull the tick out. Be careful to fit the mouthparts into the smallest part of the notch, and do this as close to the skin as possible.

If you are concerned it might be a black-legged tick and has transmitted a disease, place it in a container and send it to UNH Cooperative Extension for identification. Be sure to record the date and location of the bites. If possible, record the date and town where you probably picked up the tick to help identification.

If you would like to know more about ticks in New Hampshire, come to the Goffstown Ace Hardware at 5 Depot Street in Goffstown on Saturday, April 23 from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Rachel Maccini, a trained entomologist and Cooperative Extension’s pesticide safety education program coordinator, will be providing information and answering questions.     

Jeremy DeLisle is the program coordinator for the UNH Cooperative Extension Education Center. The center answers questions about gardening and more at answers@unh.edu, or by calling (877) 398-4769 Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.