"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Tick, Tick, Tick Time
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Scifres

A reader of this column and web page tells me about a Southern Indiana mushroom hunt last week, but the gist of his story revolves around ticks, mostly in the form of questions.

He had several questions. First, he was wondering what one could do to keep ticks at bay while in tick-infested areas--just about any place outdoors in Indiana. He also was concerned about procedures one should follow to relieve itching sensations in areas of the skin where tick bites occur, and what one should do if bitten by a tick.

My Southern Indiana upbringing and my propensities to spend time outdoors often turned me into a flea bag when I was a kid, but in those days folks didn’t worry a lot about this sort of thing. We picked them off, burned them with heat from matches or the fire end of a cigarette and went about our business.

Things changed. Along came Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease, and ticks became a whole new ballgame. The former can come from the bite of the American dog tick or the lone star tick. The latter can be caused only by the bite of the blacklegged tick.

My reader’s questions put me on the prowl for a brochure, “Ticks and Disease In Indiana” that I have kept on my desk for some time. Based on the work of Dr. Robert Pinger, THE AUTHORITY on ticks for nearly 20 years, and published by his employer, Ball State University, in cooperation with the Department of Natural Resources and the Indiana Department of Health, this beautiful piece of work is available free from any County Public Health Office.

Although this brochure answered most of my questions concerning ticks and their resulting maladies, I called Dr. Pinger at Ball State to be certain the brochure still is available. Through my writing on the outdoors, I had cooperated with Dr. Pinger’s tick projects for many years by encouraging readers to send him ticks along with capture locations.

Dr. Pinger confirmed the availability of the brochure and suggested that I check for more details with Dr. James F. Howell of the Indiana Department of Health.

In addition to confirming the availability of the brochure through County Health Offices, Dr. Howell pointed out that diseases caused by tick bites are bacterial and can, thus, be treated by antibiotics. Dr. Howell also said he knew of no deaths in recent years in Indiana that could be attributed to tick diseases.

Although the three aforementioned ticks are most feared, Dr. Howell and Dr. Pinger say Indiana hosts about 15 species of ticks, including the brown dog tick. They added that while early spring to early summer is a prime period for ticks, all of the three ticks may be present through the warm months. They also said that although the blacklegged tick is often thought to be a fall tick, it probably is present through the warm months. It, of course, is most often hosted by deer. Contact by humans is more likely during fall hunting seasons.

So how does one discourage ticks that are looking for a meal of blood (which they must have to survive)? And what should one do if a tick is found attached to one’s skin?

When I was growing up in Southern Indiana, rubbing the shoes and trouser legs with a rag soaked in gasoline or kerosene was thought to be a good deterrent for chiggers and ticks, but I am not so sure it worked.

I depended on feeling the little critters walking on my skin (usually my legs), and picked them off and destroyed them. If a tick became attached to my skin, I lightly removed it with fingernails and treated the minute wounds with rubbing alcohol.

If bitten by a tick today, I would remove the tick and massage the area of the bite with an antibiotic ointment.

Ticks tend to settle for lunch in hair-covered parts of the body, so a check of such areas would be in order after exposure to tick-infested outdoor areas.

Several years back, as a result of my occasional talks with Dr. Pinger, I received a “Pro-Tick Remedy” called a “tick lifter.” It is made of light, but rigid, metal (roughly two inches long and half an inch wide with a tiny fork-like end--see picture). This little tool  is used to lift the attached tick from the skin gently to avoid leaving the head embedded in the skin.

Although I had thought it was no longer available, I have just discovered that this tool is still sold by REI,  a distributor of camping equipment and other outdoor items, and that one can order the “tick lifter” by mail, e-mail, internet, or telephone (REI, PO Box 1700, Sumner, Washington 98352-0001; phone, 1-800-426-4840; website, www.REI.com). 

Partially opened cuticle or other small scissors could also be used to gently encourage ticks to dislodge their barb-like mouths from the skin

In removing ticks, the watchwords are “slow and easy.” It is best not to leave any part of the tick embedded in the skin. A gentle lifting pressure is best. You don’t want to hurt the tick . . . you just want it to back off . . . you can make the tick sorry it bit you later. 

If bitten by a tick, there is no need to get excited, says Dr. Howell. He adds that it is a good idea to keep an eye on the affected area. If there is a reaction to the bite, or if the person bitten becomes ill, a trip to a doctor would be advisable, he says.

This is a photo of the Pro-Tick Remedy "tick lifter" I received several years ago, still available from REI. (Partially opened cuticle or other small scissors could also be used to gently encourage ticks to dislodge their barb-like mouths from the skin.)

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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