A Small But Deadly Mess

It’s late March. Spring is trying to get a foot hold with a few bare patches of ground in the yard. I’m vacuuming around the dog’s floor bed. I see a small brown moving dot just off the edge of the dog bed. It’s an encouraged tick. I missed October 2007 as I worked through Lyme Disease, so this is not a welcome sign of spring. 

The health hazards of ticks are well documented. Ticks have been called the cesspool of the insect world, commonly carrying multiple disease. Lyme Disease is the best known of those diseases. Keeping ticks out of your home should be priority #1 when cleaning. Dust may be an annoyance. Ticks can be a deadly mess if allowed into your home. Here are some cleaning tips to help protect you family and pets. 

If you have any bare ground in your yard, tick season has begun. Below are the steps my family uses to live happily in an area infested by disease carrying ticks. None of this is medical advice, though some of the tips below were learned from our family physicians and basic homework online. Following this routine, we haven’t let ticks stop us from enjoying work and play in northern Wisconsin.

Let’s start with prevention. Consider using a DEET quality insect repellent. Not comfortable with the DEET on your skin? Hang clothing and apply it to the clothing before dressing. The light and airy clothing now being manufactured to prevent excessive sun exposure is ideal keeping ticks from having their way. It can be worn over a pair of short and a t-shirt. Before you enter the home, slip off the light clothing, give it a good shake and hang in outside under an eve for your next use. At a minimum, avoid making it all the way to your bedroom before changing clothes. If you or the kids have long hair, tie it up in a pony tail and wear a ball cap. This makes seeing ticks on the nape of the neck easier. Lite colored clothing also make it easier to spot ticks if they have landed on you while outside. For the dog, it’s brushing with a fine toothed animal comb and inspection down to the skin every time they come in or use an insecticide collar. Finally, keep grass near the home cut low. This creates an outdoor play space for family members and pets that is less likely to be infested with ticks. It’s that or keep the dog out of the woods. 

Because our dog wears a “tick collar” during the warm season we wash our hand frequently to minimize absorption of the collar insecticide into our skin. Our dog also gets vaccinated for Lyme Disease each year.

Next is inspection. With 5 kids “tick checks” became the norm in our home. This happened throughout the day, at bath time, or as soon as we knew outdoor time for the day was done. We would visually check the kids skin and hair for any ticks that may have made it inside. Of first concern was the very small deer tick. If you see a dark spot even as small as a freckle, it is suspect. Look more closely.  It was normal to find ticks yet finding a place to dig it. In this case, we picked and flushed. If they were dug in then we moved onto treatment 

Treatment includes removing the tick from the bite area, documenting the bite and treating the bite area. We found the Tick Twister to be the best tool out there for removing ticks from pets and people. When using even the best fine-tipped tweezers you can accidentally squeeze the body of the tick forcing it’s blood and saliva into the bite area. Once removed with the Tick Twister, we checked to make sure the tick was yet whole. (A small magnifying lens helped with this.) If so, we placed the culprit on a piece of clear scotch tape, folded it in half and placed in an envelope and then dated the envelope. If we ended up at the doctor, we brought the envelope along for identification. We then marked the bite area with a fine tipped sharpie. (Just tell the kids it’s a temporary tick tattoo.) This allowed us to easily keep track of the bite mark for signs of swelling or infection. Assuming the entire tick was removed, we would dab the area with some antibiotic ointment and cover it with a band aid. If we found that body parts from the tick were in bedded in the bite area after removal of the tick we usually took the kid to the doctor.

There are several other steps to consider when keeping your home free of tics. Slow down when you vacuum. Ticks are not only hardy, they are strong for their size. When outside they climb grass and shrub stems and hold on with three legs while patiently waiting with three legs extended for something to pass by. Inside, if disturbed they may actually grab hold of carpet and upholstery fibers and hold on long enough to survive a quick pass of the vacuum. So vacuum slowly and often, including upholstery.

If you have solid floor walk off areas, use those ares for removing outdoor clothes and inspecting pets. Then vacuum or sweep those areas often and follow with damp moping.

Never sit or lie down on furniture or bedding right after being outside. Unlike mosquitoes that often take just a moment to penetrate your skin after they have landed, tics will wander for some time, even a couple hours once they are on you, looking for a suitable place to dig in. If you land on furniture or bed after time outside, ticks may actually drop to your bedding and then find you later when you are sleeping.

We have found ticks on towels and bedding, so those get washed more frequently during tick season.

Rugs and dog beds get shaken outside or vacuumed daily. 

When it comes to ticks, being diligent is much better then being scared. This is especially true when surrounded by the beautiful north woods. Like any other outdoor hazard or nuisance such as poison ivy, mosquitoes or nasty weather being informed and diligent is always a better option than staying inside or on pavement for our short warm season. Even after feeling like I had the flu for a month, suffering with Lyme Disease during the fall of  2007, I still get out and enjoy our short but glorious warm season.

So, a little off center for cleaning advice, but seeing that brown spot move across my carpet got me thinking about the topic.

Eric Nei, The Cleaning Guy