Tick season will be bad this year—here's how to protect your yard
Keep your outdoor space as safe as possible from those Lyme-carrying menaces.
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If you have a backyard, chances are good that it's never felt more like a sanctuary than it does right now—and you want to keep it that way. We're not here to add another thing to your "things to be anxious about" list, but: Ticks are predicted to be rampant this year, in almost every part of the United States. According to the National Pest Management Association, this spring and summer is perfectly calibrated for a boom in the tick population, thanks in large part to the preceding relatively mild, wet winter.
Ticks come in a wide range of species and may carry many different diseases, but deer ticks (also called blacklegged ticks), which transmit Lyme disease, are of particular concern. States in the Northeast, from Maine to Virginia, are on highest alert, but Lyme disease is present in all 50 states. No matter where you live, you’ll want to make your backyard as inhospitable to ticks as possible. Here’s some advice from an expert on how to keep the ticks at bay this summer.
Minimize areas in your yard that might draw ticks
Ticks favor areas high in grass, brush, and trees, according to the CDC. This may not be possible to change in full—uprooting every tree in your yard, for example, would probably reduce ticks but may not be possible or desirable—but there are some steps you can take to make your space less tick-friendly. “Keep grass cut low, especially around fence lines, sheds and trees,” says Jim Fredericks, Ph.D., chief entomologist for the National Pest Management Association. “Additionally, remove weeds, woodpiles, and other debris that could serve as nesting areas for mice, which can carry ticks into a yard.”
You’ll also want to ensure your garbage cans are sealed and contained—loose waste can attract raccoons and skunks, which can also carry ticks. Finally, check and treat your pets for ticks, as owning a pet doubles your risk, according to a study published in Zoonoses and Public Health. Be sure any pets who spend time outdoors are treated with topical or systemic tick-repelling treatments, so they are less likely to bring ticks (and fleas) inside.
Create physical barriers to keep ticks out
The CDC advises placing wood chips or gravel between the lawn and any wooded areas to make the area less attractive to ticks, and keeping shrubbery trimmed near playground equipment especially.
If possible, you may want to fence in your yard to keep out deer—they’re not called “deer ticks” for nothing.
Guard your skin when you go outside
Because ticks are so prevalent in the summer, simply being outside may pose its own tick-based risk. “People spending time outdoors should consider wearing long pants and sleeves, as well as using an insect repellent containing an EPA-registered ingredient like DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus,” Fredericks says.
If your backyard is particularly heavy in brush, you may want to take an extra precautionary step by buying pretreated clothing or clothing sprays containing permethrin, which, according to the CDC, is a chemical that kills ticks, fleas, cockroaches, and mosquitoes, and lasts through several washings.
Always double-check your body, just to be safe
Finally, no matter how many preventative measures you’ve taken, you should do a scan of your body after being outside. Use a hand mirror to ensure you see all parts of your body, and if you have kids and/or pets, check them, too. The CDC also advises taking a shower within two hours of coming inside, which has been shown to reduce the risk of contracting Lyme disease, as it provides a good opportunity to check for ticks and wash off any that haven’t yet attached.
If you do find a tick, the CDC advises using a pair of fine-tipped tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible. Once you get a good grip, pull with a steady upward motion to ensure no parts of the tick get left behind in your skin. Then, wash your hands and clean the area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water and drown the tick in alcohol, place it a sealed or zipped bag, or flush it down the toilet to dispose of it.
You should also get in touch with your doctor, particularly if you couldn’t fully remove the tick—in those cases, antibiotics may be needed, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you can’t go to a doctor right away, take the next few weeks to keep an eye on the area where the tick was, as well as your overall health. If you develop a rash, fever, or flu-like symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor (probably a virtual appointment) to discuss your situation and treatment options.