Chiggers, Ticks and Other Bloodsuckers
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The great outdoors is nowhere more beautiful than here in Western NC. It beckons like the siren’s call and there are so many choices from picnics to hiking, biking, birding, and more that when the weather’s nice it’s almost an insult not to get outside.
But we are not alone, and to some of the other critters we share the world with we look like a banquet. Chiggers, ticks and mosquitos are out and about living large this summer. While some are merely annoying and uncomfortable, some can really cause problems by vectoring in disease. Learning more about them will help you make better informed decisions so you can still enjoy the outdoors knowing you have taken care of protecting yourself.
A chigger is a tiny parasitic mite, scarcely visible to the human eye. It attacks people, birds, reptiles, and other animals, causing red welts and severe itching. They spike at dawn and dusk and on overcast and humid days in woodlots, briar patches, uncut grass, and weeds, but may also infest well-kept shrubbery and lawns. Chiggers hatch from eggs into larvae that are so small they are almost invisible – ‘the no-see-ums” .
These larvae are the parasites that lunch on humans and other vertebrates. Blood is not what they’re after. They actually scrape the skin, then inject a fluid to dissolve our tissue so they can suck it up for their meal, feeding where the skin is thin and the clothing is tight. That irritation is the cause of the itch. The good news is that chiggers here are not known to transmit disease, although secondary infections may occur as a result of scratching. Another great reason for diligent hand washing and fingernail care. Insect repellents can prevent chigger bites. Among the best are those containing diethyl toluamide (DEET) and permethrin. Apply the repellent to clothing around the ankles, waist and arms.
Ticks are most active in the spring, summer, and fall. Some species are even active in the winter! Ticks are related to spiders and mites – they have eight legs. Ticks occupy leaf litter, foundation cracks, and other secluded places until they need a blood meal. They then move to tall grass or shrubs where the humidity is higher before they attach themselves to the next source of a blood meal.
The tick searches for a place on the skin to attach – so covering up that skin and using appropriate repellents can be helpful. Know that some products work against both mosquitoes and ticks, while others work to repel mosquitos or ticks. Permethrin products containing 0.5% permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing and camping gear and remain protective through several washings. The EPA has a search tool to help you find the repellent that is right for you.
It’s important to know how to prevent tick bites and how to properly remove them when we do get bit. Don’t panic if you find a tick on you. The key is to remove the tick as soon as possible because the duration of attachment and feeding is important to disease infection. While there are several tick removal devices you can purchase, a regular set of fine-tipped tweezers work very well. Use these to grasp the tick as close to your skin’s surface as possible, then pull upward with steady, even pressure without twisting so the mouthparts don’t break off. After removing it, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Don’t squash a tick with your fingers as there may be pathogens inside it that you do NOT want to come into contact with. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.
If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor. Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred. Check the CDC for information on ticks and the NC State extension publications for information on ticks and tick-borne diseases.
Lastly, but certainly not the least is the mosquito. Remember the phrase “Tip & Toss”. All mosquitoes need water to complete their life cycle. The females bite and most are a nuisance, but some can spread disease like West Nile or Zika and cause heartworm in dogs. Male mosquitoes do not bite; they feed strictly on plant nectar.
Most mosquitoes are active during twilight hours and at night. but the mosquitoes that breed in rain-filled objects, ditches, and tree holes are often active during the day. Hence the “Tip & Toss” standing water tactic.
Pesticide applications are only a short-term solution to long-term nuisance mosquito problems. Modifying or eliminating breeding sites is the long-term solution to severe mosquito problems. Learn more about mosquito control.