During the summer of 2008, I was working in Shenandoah National Park with rare and endangered plants. One day, I was on my hands and knees taking a close look at some rare plant species. As I stood up to stretch, my gaze fell on my hand, where something didn?t seem quite right — it seemed like one of my freckles was moving! I immediately knew it was a seed tick, but then as I looked, I saw another one, and another one, and still more! As I continued to widen my gaze, I finally saw that both my hands were a mass of moving freckles.

Not good. Not good at all.

Ticks are a grim reality in the field, and, in my opinion, the most dangerous of the biological hazards. Hard to spot, painless bites, and disease carriers, they can easily evade detection. That summer, one crew member fell ill with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever after an encounter with a Lone Star Tick and was hospitalized.

It is absolutely necessary that field technicians be able to identify ticks. They should know the species, the associated diseases, how to spot them, and how to remove if bitten.

Here are some common ticks you are likely to encounter in the eastern US.

American Dog Tick

These are the largest of the eastern woodland tick species found in the US (about 1/8?).? They are reddish brown with white or yellow markings. These are known to transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, tularemia, and possibly ehrlichiosis.

Lone Star Tick (known as seed ticks when small)

These are easily distinguished by a white star on the center of their back. They are aggressive ticks and are known to move large distances in pursuit of a host. They inhabit dense brush and woodland and are known to transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, tularemia, and ehrlichiosis.

Deer Tick (also known as the Black Legged Tick and Bear Tick)

The Deer tick is dark brown and red. It inhabits woodlands, and exposure is usually greatest along trails. They are small and can be difficult to spot. They are known to transmit Lyme disease, which is recognizable by a bull?s eye rash around the bite area. They also transmit ehrlichiosis.

If a tick gets on you, it will generally crawl up your body until it gets to a barrier. The barrier could be your belt, or if the tick makes it to your upper body, your hairline. These two places are the most common areas for ticks to embed themselves and should be the focal points of your tick check.

Tick Bite Prevention
It helps if you are able to recognize thick brush as tick habitat and be aware of the months in which they are most active (generally spring and summer), but in all reality, if you spend a lot of time in the field, you are going to get bit.

You can use specific kinds of repellants. Ones with DEET (clothes or skin) or Permethrin (CLOTHES ONLY) should help. Also, don?t forget to check yourself every day. It takes a tick several hours to become fully embedded. Catch them early!

Removing a Tick ? What NOT To Do:

  • Paint the tick in nail polish
  • Cover the tick in petroleum jelly
  • Try to burn the tick off
  • Squeeze, crush, or puncture the tick

Doing any of these can cause a tick to produce more pathogen-containing secretions into the bite site, or in the case of burning, hurt you.

Removing a Tick ? What To Do:

  1. Use fine-point tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible.
  2. Pull up GENTLY with steady pressure until your skin tents. Do not twist or jerk, as this can cause the tick?s mouthparts to snap off and remain in your skin. This can cause infection.
  3. Keep the pressure on; the tick will slowly back itself/be pulled out.
  4. Once it?s out, use rubbing alcohol to clean the area.

If you develop a fever or rash within the next several weeks, go to a doctor and make sure to tell him/her about your recent tick bite and what species the tick was. You may want to consider saving the tick for ID purposes after removal.


Written By: Chris Hollinger

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