Tick numbers — and therefore tick bites — have been on the rise in recent years, a top expert warns, but Americans can take a few simple steps to protect themselves from the pests this summer.
dr Jon Oliver, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, told DailyMail.com millions of Americans are bitten by ticks each year, but transmission of dangerous diseases linked to tick bites, such as Lyme disease and alpha gal syndrome, is rare is transferred.
Still, people should take precautions this summer — the time of year when animals are most active — as even a small risk of contracting the disease is still a risk.
He recommends people use bug spray, do regular tick checks, and avoid brushed areas where the bugs like to hide.
The number of ticks that interact with humans is starting to increase as Americans invade their habitat and create more interactions with them
“It’s important to recognize tick habitats,” Oliver explained.
Different ticks living in different areas of the country can transmit different diseases.
Deer ticks, the most common species of tick in the US and often associated with Lyme disease, often live in wooded habitats and in areas with high humidity, Oliver says.
Because of this, they are most active in the southern US and in late June, July, and August.
Lone Star ticks, which are responsible for Alpha Gal Syndrome — a bizarre condition in which a person suffers from an allergy to red meat — prefer drier conditions and are found in parts of the US Southwest.
Ticks often carry these diseases because they picked them up from another animal they were feeding on.
dr Jon Oliver (pictured), an entomologist at the University of Minnesota, says there are simple steps a person can take to protect themselves from tick-borne diseases, like using bug spray, wearing long sleeves in areas at risk of exposure and tick checks afterwards
Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne disease affecting up to 35,000 people annually, originated in rats. A tick that feeds on a rat can get the disease and then pass on the bacteria that causes it to the next animal it feeds on.
However, tick-borne diseases reach their dead end in humans because humans cannot transmit them to each other or to another organism.
This type of bacterial infection also does not harm the tick, so it can continue to feed on other living things even after infection.
Regardless of which bug is common in the area you live in, the recommendation on how to deal with the bugs remains the same.
“Insect repellent works for both tics and mosquitoes. Use any EPA-approved insect repellent,” says Oliver.
He also recommends avoiding some more brushing areas where bugs might be. If someone needs to enter these areas – for work, for example – they should wear long sleeves and pants to act as a barrier between themselves and the bugs.
Because ticks have evolved to feed on a person without them noticing — even releasing chemicals that stun the host — most tick bites go unnoticed.
However, the bugs can remain attached to a person for long periods of time, with each hour they attach to the host increasing the likelihood that they will transmit a potentially dangerous disease.
“Most tick-borne diseases require a tick to be fed for at least 24 hours before they transmit the bacterial disease,” Oliver said.
He explains that the risk of disease transmission within the first 24 hours after a tick has attached itself to a human is low. After 36 hours the risk would have increased rapidly, and after 60 hours there is practically a 100 percent chance of transmission.
Deer ticks, which are most common in America and often transmit Lyme disease, are often found in bushy areas with high humidity
For this reason, a person should perform regular tick checks after returning from an outdoor activity in a place where there was a risk of ticks.
He recommends a person comb through their body and make sure no unwanted intruders are attached to it. A shower can also help.
However, ticks are very small, and their nymphs are often as small as a sesame seed, which makes it possible that a person did not notice that he had a guest attached to him all day.
If a person thinks they have a tick on them for 24 hours, Oliver recommends seeing a doctor.
“You really shouldn’t panic… [but] “If you develop flu-like symptoms or a rash or illness of any kind, you should let your doctor know,” he said.
Infections are rare, with Oliver saying only about half of ticks are actually infected with a disease like Lyme disease.
It can take around 24 hours for a tick to transmit a disease it carries to a human, which means regular and thorough tick checks can help prevent contraction of dangerous bacterial infections
Even when a person does become infected, they often manage to deal with it without medical treatment, and they may not even know they have the infection.
Oliver believes official figures may only capture around 10 percent of cases – with around 300,000 people expected to be infected each year.
With only about one percent of tick bites resulting in infection, this means millions of people are unknowingly eaten by the critters every year.
The prevalence of these creatures has also increased. As humans destroy forests and encroach on natural habitats, they also interact with more bugs than they otherwise would not.
“There are a lot more ticks than there were 20 years ago, and the spread of ticks has escalated a lot,” he said, a harbinger of what could be to come with Lyme disease and other diseases.