Tick Myths

Myth #1: Once you’ve been bitten, you’ll get Lyme disease or some other illness.

The Truth: For most tick-borne diseases, the tick needs to be attached for longer than 24 hours to transmit disease because of the biology of the way ticks feed. Bacterial diseases live in the stomachs of ticks, but in order to be transmitted, they need to get to the saliva, a process that takes at least 24 hours; which means that checking yourself for ticks as soon as you get indoors can help you find ticks before they’ve had the chance to make you sick.

Myth #2: You can feel a tick biting you.

The Truth: Tick bites are painless, so you certainly won’t feel one. What’s more, fewer than half of people who’ve been infected with Lyme show the “bull’s-eye rash” that was once thought to be a telltale sign of the disease. If you start showing flulike symptoms in the middle of summer (fever, chills, aches, and pains are common symptoms of a variety of tick-borne diseases), go to the doctor and ask to be tested for the illnesses associated with ticks. July and August are peak times for Lyme disease infections because deer tick populations surge toward the end of June, and it can take between two and three weeks to get sick.

Myth #3: Every tick carries Lyme Disease or some other disease.

The Truth: A lot do, but not all. However, because the sheer number of deer ticks has skyrocketed in recent years, you’re more likely to encounter an infected tick than an uninfected one. There are three different types of ticks that you’re most likely to encounter in the U.S.: deer ticks, American dog ticks, and lone star ticks (although there are six other varieties of ticks that stick close to certain regions).

By far, Deer Ticks (Blacklegged ticks) carry the biggest number of diseases, including Lyme disease and anaplasmosis, as well as the parasite babesiosis. Upwards of 70% of adult female deer ticks could make you sick with one of those diseases. But just one in 1,000 American dog ticks is infected with Rocky Mountain spotted fever or tularemia (aka rabbit fever), and one in 20 Lone Star ticks may be infected with the agent causing human ehrlichiosis (a bacterial disease).

Myth #4: Ticks with a white spot on its back are infected with Lyme disease.

The Truth: This falls into the classification of ‘Urban Myth’. Ticks with a ‘white spot’ on its back are simply adult Lone Star ticks. Male Lone Star ticks will have spots or streaks of white around its body. The Lone Star tick does not transmit Lyme disease, but is capable of spreading the pathogens that cause other tick-borne diseases, including Ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Myth #5: You can remove a tick with perfume, alcohol, Vaseline or a hot match.

The Truth: Those old tricks you learned from your relatives about removing ticks by praying them with perfume or alcohol, lighting a match next to the tick or by painting it with nail polish, are unnecessary and possibly dangerous, says the CDC. The only tool you need is a pair of needle-nosed tweezers. Grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and gently pull it out without twisting or jerking. Then wash your hands and the spot where you found it with good soap and disinfect the skin with rubbing alcohol.

Myth #6: Ticks fall or jump from trees.

The Truth: Ticks crawl up. If you find one on your head, it’s because the tick crawled up your entire body and found a home there, not because it fell from a tree branch above you.

Deer ticks, the ones that carry Lyme disease, are not as aggressive as dog ticks, and they generally stop crawling whenever they find a clothing barrier, which is why you’re likely to find them around your sock line, along your underwear line, and on the backs of your knees where your shorts stop. That’s also why you’ll be better protected against Lyme if you tuck in your shirt, tuck your pant legs into your socks, and find other ways to create clothing barriers they can’t crawl past while you’re in the woods.

Myth #7: Ticks die every winter.

The Truth: Adult deer ticks actually begin their feeding activity around the time of the first frost and they will latch onto you or your pets anytime the temperature is above freezing. “Temperatures have to drop below 10 degrees F for a long time in order for ticks to start dying off,” according to Michael W. Dryden, DVM, PhD, professor in veterinary parasitology at Kansas State University. But even when temps drop below freezing, he says, ticks are still out there. “They may not be as efficient at attaching themselves to a host, but they’re still alive.”

Sources: (University of Rhode Island’s TickEncounter Resource Center: http://www.tickencounter.org/; Centers for Disease Control & Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/)