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Experts Offer Advice On Keeping Disease-Carrying Ticks Away From You & Your Pets

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- They are literally everywhere right now. Little Ninjas hiding in your grass or on your low plants waiting for you to come by.

Allegheny County entomologist Bill Todaro says disease carrying ticks hang on with their back legs and wave the rest in the air, "and if something walks by they have hooks on their legs and they hook on and crawl onto you."

Veterinarian Dr. Mike Hutchinson says, "It's nothing to see 30 ticks on an animal." And if they can be on an animal, they can jump off in your house and crawl up your leg.

Allegheny Health Network's Dr. Brian Lamb says the ticks are a real concern.

"There are 15 different diseases that come from ticks, and Pennsylvania has the highest rate of tick-borne Lyme disease in America," he said.

Lyme disease, while treatable, often goes undiagnosed and saps its victim with flu-like, run-down symptoms and worse. Ticks can also carry the Powassan virus, which is deadly, but also very rare. There were only six cases in the United States last year.

When most of us think of ticks, we think of the little blood suckers fully engorged and about the size of a pencil eraser. Those are adult ticks and easy to spot.

But what we're dealing with right now and into the summer are seed or nymph ticks, which are so small they're about the size of a grain of sand. Or, as the experts tell us:

Bill Todaro: "Mother Nature is not playing fair when she sends this thing out."

Dr. Hutchinson: "You and I won't see those nymphs."

Bill Todaro: "This thing crawls up your leg, you're not going to feel it. If it gets up behind your knee or in your groin, you're not going to notice."

The tick even has a way of anestisizing you so you don't feel the bite. Fortunately, they have very small mouths and it takes a long time to borrow into your skin and hit blood.

So, Dr. Lambs says, "It takes about 48 hours of that tick being on you before it transmits the disease."

So prevention is the key. The experts say check yourself and your pet every time you've been out in the grass or woods. Darker, warm areas on both pet and human bodies are their favorite spots.
Also, take steps to keep them off you and your pet in the first place.

This requires a combination of things the experts say will get the job done. Collars work, but Dr. Hutchinson warns they would repel the tick while it's in your home before it has a chance to kill it. Instead, prescribed oral medications or topicals are preferred.

On top of the medications there are some things you can do to discourage the tick from climbing on, or staying on, in the first place.

Todaro says the best thing for people is to spray yourself with a DEET product. But Dr. Hutchinson warns DEET should never be sprayed on a pet.

The internet is full of home remedies of essential oils that claim to repel ticks. Todaro says he would prefer to see scientific tests, but does believe they work.

But he adds, "Those products are effective, but the convenience? You are on the way out, do you want to grab bottles and mix things, or do you want to grab a can as you are out the door and do a quick spray."

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Dr. Hutchinson has his own home remedy, "Nine parts Listerine and one part water, in a spray bottle, spray. Spray your dogs' coat and your lower body and the ticks hate the alcohol and will jump right off while you are out there."

Tammie Aiken says she has successfully kept the ticks at bay by spraying her yard with a 50/50 vinegar and water mix. There are also many commercial products you can spray on your lawn as well.

A final point. The ticks will come to you by way of animals that pass through your property. Mice and deer are the worst so try to make your place as undesirable to them as you can.

To review:

  • DEET products work on people but can harm your pet.
  • Collars may kill ticks unless they repel them first and the ticks jump off in your house.
  • Essential oils seem to work well to repel ticks, but can dry out your pet's skin if they are overused. Also they should be used in conjunction with a prescribed oral or topical tick killer.
  • Like the essential oils the Listerine mix works on people and pets. Like the oils it should be used in conjunction with a prescribed oral or topical tick killer. And don't try to use it for doggie breath; your dog should not swallow the Listerine.
  • If you have indoor and outdoor pets - THEY ALL should be treated for tick prevention.
  • Dog products and Cat products are not the same and should never be used on the wrong pet. Some dog products can be lethal for cats.
  • When you remove a tick use tweezers and pull very slowly and the tick will give up and come out whole.
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