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Treatments Reduce Tick Numbers, Risk
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The presence of animals can increase the number of ticks in any area, but adequate treatment can reduce the risk to people and pets.
Dr. Doug Gaydon, entomologist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the warmer the winter, the more ticks survive to multiply in the spring. More animals in an area mean tick numbers will be high.
"A person with any kind of animal on their property will likely have more ticks," Gaydon said. "Ticks bite dogs, cats, livestock, turtles, snakes, squirrels and other animals, and although more common in rural areas, they can be found anywhere animals are."
Nothing can be done to prevent ticks from attaching to animals or people. The only solution is to treat the animals when they do pick up ticks.
"If a person treats their animals for ticks as they should, they won't be raising an excessive number of ticks on their property," Gaydon said.
Except on rare occasions in South Mississippi, ticks are not a problem on livestock because their numbers are so few. They are a problem on pets, but several treatments are available to solve the problem.
Veterinarians can prescribe medication that is given monthly to cats and dogs as a pill or drops. These work by moving into the bloodstream where they kill ticks as they feed.
Dogs can be treated with an insecticide on their coat as either a spray, dip or powder. This treatment kills the ticks on the animal at that time, but its potency only last about three to five days.
"If you have a big problem with ticks, you would have to keep treating the dog each week to 10 days," Gaydon said. "As the dog continued to collect ticks from the environment which were then killed with the insecticide, it would eventually lower the tick population significantly."
The third option is the simplest, and requires pesticide drops be placed between the dog's shoulder blades. These oil-based drops spread across the dog's body and are effective for seven to 10 days. While the drops do not reach all of the dog's extremities, they do cover the neck, chest and face area which dogs can't reach with grooming and where most ticks are found.
Gaydon said when a tick is found on a human or pet, use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin of the victim as possible and firmly pull straight back. If part of the head remains, remove with a sterilized needle the same way a splinter is removed.
Do not squeeze the tick as this pressure can cause the contents of the tick's body to be injected in the victim. If the tick carried a disease, the person can become infected with it.
"When you're exposed to an area that likely has ticks, check yourself and your children carefully in less than 12 hours," Gaydon said. "Most ticks don't carry a disease. If those that do are removed in less than 12 hours, the odds are extremely small that you will get the disease."
The lone star tick is most numerous in Mississippi. As an engorged adult, this light brown tick is as large as a man's fingernail. The larval tick is about the size of the head of a straight pen. This tick can carry lyme disease.
Another common tick is the deer tick, which also can carry lyme disease. This is a much smaller, dark tick found most often in the fall and early winter. This tick picks up lyme disease from woodland mice which are rarely found in Mississippi. In the South, the deer tick often feeds on snakes and lizards which don't carry the disease.
The brown dog tick, which is not as numerous in Mississippi as these others, can carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
"We get bit by other blood-sucking pest such as mosquitos often, but ticks are so distasteful to people that when they get one on them, they often elevate the experience to be worse than it is," Gaydon said. "The chances of getting a disease from a tick are very small, and if you remove it before it's been attached long, the odds are almost zero."
Contact: Dr. Doug Gaydon, (662) 325-2983