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The Tick Explosion of 2017 is Real… and Dangerous

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You may have already seen the headlines – an unusually large boom in ticks throughout the Midwest this year, all due in large part thanks to a relatively mild winter. The lack of a solid deep-freeze kept the tick population from dying off during their dormant state, and warm, wet conditions this spring are bringing them back en masse. We’ve lived in this house for seven years, and while I’d found the occasional tick while doing yard work (never bitten), we’ve never had an issue until now – and we’ve got kids and dogs. Two weeks, two daughters, two different species of tick – and last night we had an ER visit.

Last week, our oldest daughter, Addie, found a deer tick in her hair. If it had attached, it wasn’t there very long, as it fell into the bathtub. She actually didn’t know what it was and said “Mommy, Daddy, I have a lice!” I took a peek and confirmed that it was definitely a deer tick – and it does make sense. She had just been outside with me and was helping as I removed soggy leaves and brush from a storm drain in our backyard.

Last night, however, we discovered that little sister had something far worse – an engorged tick that was heavily-embedded into her scalp on the back of her head. It had been feeding – probably for a few days – and I was surprised that I hadn’t noticed it sooner, as I’d brushed her hair and tied it back. Despite being quite large for a tick, it was laying flat against her scalp, and the girls said “it looks like corn.” 

Dog Tick embedded in scalp

The ticks in our area have been so bad that the Lake County, Illinois Health Department have issued warnings, complete with a video on how to properly remove a tick. They say “DO NOT burn the tick off. DO NOT cover it with petroleum jelly. DO NOT twist or pull the tick quickly” or any other common tales. Instead, they demonstrate how to pull it straight out with tweezers, noting that many of the common (and incorrect) solutions can not only leave parts of the tick (i.e. the head) embedded in the host, but also cause the tick to “regurgitate” its juices into its victim, adding to the possibility of disease or infection.

Finley hugging her
Finley hugging her “Worry Eater” – a plush toy designed to “eat” (through a zippered mouth) a child’s worries.

Finley’s tick was so embedded, I couldn’t risk it and had to take her to the local ER since I needed a proper “Tick Extraction Professional” (which will probably cost a small fortune thanks to our high-deductible health insurance). There, they confirmed this to be a “dog tick,” but it even took them a bit to get it out. After messing with it for a bit, its legs had curled and they thought it may have been dead, but it was only pretending. After removing the entire thing intact, it sprang back to life in the tray – complete with a chunk of little Finley’s skin still attached to its mouth:

There was some bleeding, and after disinfecting and treating the wound, the biggest concern now is skin infection. Disease transmission is still possible, so we’re going to be on the lookout.

So now the looming question is about how to treat our yard and landscape? Keeping messes cleaned-up is a given, but we do have an abundance of birds, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and voles (mice-like creatures) that can be carrying these things. As much as I hate to do chemicals, I’m going to spray, so this morning I’m going to pick up some supplies while the kids are at school.

In the past, I’ve tried countless organic solutions for a variety of pests, and sadly none of them have been as effective as the heavy-duty, more toxic options. 

Update: I’ve sprayed the yard twice with Bayer Advanced Complete Insect Control, and have recently started using Thermacell Tick Tubes. So far, no more ticks (knock on wood)! Additionally, I was interviewed for a Chicago Tribune feature about the tick problem in Illinois this year.

Have you found an effective solution of ridding your yard of ticks? If so, share your experiences below…

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