This may be the most obvious thing you’ll read all day, but ticks are pretty gross. Even if you’re the kind of person who looks for the beauty in everything, I’m sure ticks have to be a hard sell.

Unlike spiders, ticks don’t help control other pests, but they do have something in common with everyone’s least-favorite pest, the mosquito; they can suck your blood and give you awful diseases.

At least mosquitoes have the decency to dine and dash. Ticks will hitch a ride on you and gorge themselves like they’re at an all-you-can-eat buffet, becoming larger and more disgusting all the while.

Most people can easily identify a tick, but if you need a refresher, here you go. Remember, you were warned.

Originally, I was going to include a picture or two of the nasty little buggers in this article, but you probably haven’t done anything to deserve that kind of treatment. Here’s a puppy instead.

Tick Season Is Getting Worse

two puppies playing

This tick season could be the worst ever, according to public health officials. While we’re not talking biblical plague levels of the critters, the uptick in encounters this year has caught the attention and concern of researchers.

Aside from the major ick factor, reports of tick-borne illness are on the rise, and consistently longer, warmer summers mean that this trend is likely to continue. Though perhaps Lyme disease is the most well-known, ticks can transmit a number of diseases, some of which are deadly while others can cause unfortunate side effects.

Threatening barbecues everywhere, lone star ticks are capable of inducing severe meat allergies in a person with just one bite. This discovery is recent, and with four new tick-borne diseases having been discovered since just 2013, we can probably expect that list to continue growing in the coming years.

And as if a cadre of nasty diseases wasn’t enough to worry about, a recent viral video of a young girl experiencing temporary paralysis due to a tick bite highlighted another of the scary potential effects of a tick bite.

Ever larger tick populations lead to increased contact with people and disease transmission. It’s unlikely that the conditions creating more tick-friendly environments will go away soon, so caution and prevention are more important than ever.

There are several types of ticks that people are most likely to come in contact with, including deer tick, American dog tick, and lone star tick.

How to Keep Your Yard Tick-Free

OK, ticks are both gross and dangerous. It goes without saying that you want to keep your yard as tick-free as possible. Fortunately, that’s pretty easy for most people to do.

Ticks do not live in trees, so you don’t have to worry about them descending on you like horror movie paratroopers. They prefer tall grass, brush, or shrubs and can typically be found within two feet of the ground. Ticks can’t jump or fly, meaning everywhere they go, they get there by crawling or climbing.

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Tips for keeping your yard tick-free:

  • Keep your lawn under control with regular lawn maintenance.
  • Employ regular pest control services to help keep your yard free from ticks.
  • Discourage deer from visiting your yard—they can spread deer ticks, known for carrying Lyme disease.
  • Check for ticks on dogs or cats that venture outside regularly, particularly if your property borders a wooded area.

Avoiding Ticks in the Outdoors

person walking on log in the forest

You’re most likely to encounter ticks away from home, so if you are outdoorsy, you should know how to prevent ticks from turning you into a temporary home.

The simplest way to prevent tick bites is to cover yourself up. If they can’t find your skin, they can’t bite you. Tuck your pants into your socks or shoes and your shirt into your shorts or pants to deny them access to your skin.

For most people, the summer heat may make covering up from head to toe a non-starter—insect repellants containing DEET can also provide some protection when bundling up is not an option.

Additional tips for avoiding tick bites:

  • Don’t stray too far from trail paths, and avoid wading through shrubbery whenever possible.
  • Wear light-colored clothing—any ticks trying to hitch a ride will be easier to spot.
  • Check yourself, your clothes, and your pets for ticks upon returning home.
  • Use a mirror or ask someone to check your back and other hard-to-see spots.

How to Remove a Tick

If you discover a tick on yourself or a pet, it’s important to remove it properly to prevent increased risk of exposure to bacteria and other pathogens.

Using a pair of tweezers, grab the tick just behind its head and pull gently, being sure to remove the mouth parts. If you’re squeamish or if the tick is attached in a hard-to-reach place, you may need to bribe a friend or family member to help you remove any unwanted passengers.

When removing ticks:

  • Do not use your fingers.
  • Do not burn them with matches or cigarettes.
  • Do not smother them in alcohol, nail polish remover, Vaseline, or oil.
  • Do not squeeze or twist while pulling them out.

Doing any of these things can increase the chance that the tick will transmit any diseases it may be carrying.

When to See a Doctor

doctor talking to patients

Despite your best efforts, a tick may manage to break through your defenses and bite you. After discovering and removing the tick, be on the lookout for indications that it left you with a nasty parting gift or two.

Symptoms of tick-borne diseases:

  • Fever, possibly accompanied by chills.
  • Muscle aches, joint pain, and fatigue.
  • Appearance of a rash several days to several weeks after a tick bite.

If you experience any of these symptoms or become ill after being bitten by a tick, schedule an appointment to see a doctor as soon as possible. If possible, take the removed tick with you for testing. Lyme disease treatment should begin as soon as possible to prevent debilitating side effects. Along with Rocky Mountain spotted fever and some other tick-borne illnesses, it can lead to hospitalization or even death.

Ticks Are Adapting, and So Should We

It’s easy to forget that the world is always changing. The circumstances driving booming tick populations are doing the same for other disease-causing pests. New or previously rare diseases have the potential to create public health crises if we do not adequately respond to our changing environment.

It’s a brave new world, and we’d better prepare, because those ticks aren’t going anywhere.