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Ticks on Humans

Ticks on humans are not a problem - unless the tick is infected with a disease that can be transmitted to us. Here's how to avoid, recognize and remove ticks.

The bad news

Ticks tend to hang out in the areas where we like to go hiking and camping.

hiking with small children

Some ticks can transmit disease. The best known of these is Lyme disease, but there are at least ten others.

The good news

Not all species of ticks are known to bite humans.

There are hundreds of species of ticks in the world. Many are completely harmless.

Tick bites are usually not painful.

Ticks on humans don't often hurt. You can be bitten by a tick and not even know it.

Ticks bite in order to eat - but they don't eat much.

Not all ticks carry disease-causing bacteria.

Infection rates vary from place to place. In some locations, most of the ticks are infected. In others, very few carry infection.

Even if you are bitten by an infected tick, you may not become infected.

Tick-borne diseases are not instantly transmitted.

Lyme disease, for instance, generally isn't passed on to a human host until the tick has been latched on to the human's skin for a day or two.

If you detect and remove the tick immediately, you have a very good chance of avoiding any symptoms.

Tick-borne diseases are treatable.

Treatment is most successful when it is begun immediately.

What diseases can be transmitted by ticks?

These are the diseases that are currently known to be carried and transmitted by ticks:

  • Anaplasmosis (Ehrlichiosis)
  • Babesiosis
  • Colorado tick fever
  • Lyme disease
  • Q fever
  • Rickettsiosis
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)
  • Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI)
  • Tickborne Relapsing Fever (TBRF)
  • Tick Paralysis
  • Tularemia

Since all of these are hard to diagnose and some are even harder to treat, the best strategy is to avoid being bitten by ticks in the first place.

Preventing Tick Bites

Learn when and where ticks are most likely to be found in your area.

Do some research about the area where you plan to camp and hike.

If you choose an area where infected ticks are known to hang out, take the following precautions:

Cover up.

Wear long sleeves and pants. Tuck your pants into your socks.

pants tucked into socks

Or put rubber bands around your ankles to cinch your your pant legs in tight. You might want to go even further and fasten your pants to your socks with duct tape.

Tuck your shirt into your pants.

Wear a hat with an attached bandanna that covers your neck.

hat with attached bandanna

Wear light colored clothing.

This won't deter ticks, but it will make it easier for you to see and remove them.

Avoid underbrush and long grass.

This is where ticks typically hang out. When hiking, stay to the middle of the trail.


Use insect repellent.

Health officials recommend that you use an insect repellent containing DEET to repel ticks.

insect repellent with DEET

You'll have to decide whether the risks of using DEET outweigh the risks of being bitten by a tick.

If you do use DEET, be sure to follow the directions on the package. Don't get the repellent in your eyes, nose or mouth.

Wear bug protection clothing.

These outfits are light and comfortable and provide a barrier to keep ticks away. They also deter bees, wasps and mosquitoes!

bug head net

Do regular tick checks.

Even if you take every precaution, a tick may still find you and attach itself to you.

Ticks on humans tend to crawl around for awhile before they settle down for a snack, so if you check regularly, you have a good chance of finding and removing them before they start munching you.

When should I check?

If you are out for the whole day, check numerous times during the day - every time you sit down for a rest or a snack.

How do I check?

Check all exposed skin. Look especially closely at these areas of the body:

  • on the back of the neck
  • along the scalp line
  • in the groin
  • at your sock line
  • at your waistband line
  • in folds of skin

A tick that has had a good feed of your blood will be easiest to find. It will be engorged, blue-gray in color, and as large as a watermelon seed.

A tick that hasn't begun to feed may be as small as a sesame seed - or even smaller!

If you find one tick, don't stop looking! There may be more.

If you find a tick, you may be tempted to grab it and tear it off. Don't! Read this to learn how to remove ticks on humans safely and effectively.

Tick Bite Symptoms

If you are bitten by a tick that doesn't carry disease, you will probably have no symptoms at all. In fact, you probably won't feel the bite and might never know that you have been bitten!

Tick Bite Disease Symptoms

Ticks on humans cause symptoms only if the ticks are infected. If the tick was infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, for example, you may notice the following symptoms:

within days or weeks

  • a "bulls-eye" shaped red rash
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • headache
  • weakness
  • joint and muscle pain
  • swollen lymph nodes

You'll notice that this looks very much like a list of flu symptoms. You might just assume that you have the flu.

If you have been in an area where Lyme disease is common, see your doctor promptly. Lyme disease is very treatable in the early stages.

Even if you don't seek treatment, the rash will go away in about a month, giving you the false sense that all is well - but the bacteria is still spreading through the body.

weeks or months later

  • arthritis
  • numbness
  • a stiff neck
  • memory loss
  • problems with vision
  • hearing problems
  • high fever
  • irregular or rapid heartbeat

The bottom line

Ticks on humans can cause serious problems. By knowing how to avoid, detect and remove ticks, you can lessen your chances of contracting a tick-borne disease.

Now that you know how to deal with ticks on humans, click here to learn more basic first aid instructions.

Are you planning a camping trip? Be sure to visit the Complete Family Camping Guide home page for lots of helpful information.

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