Warm weather means Tennesseans are spending more time enjoying the great outdoors. But outdoors means exposure to insect pests and ticks.
Researchers with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture say there are steps you can take to minimize the risk of tick bites and tick-borne infections.
Graham Hickling, director of the UT Center for Wildlife Health, says if you’re concerned about ticks and heading outdoors, use insect repellant containing 20 to 30 percent DEET. Follow package instructions and do not apply under clothing or to children under two months of age.
If working regularly in the field, consider also applying permethrin to clothing. Permethrin will last through several washes, but must not be applied to skin — again, be sure to follow package instructions.
Wear light-colored clothing and tuck long pants into your socks to help keep ticks off of your skin. Wear close-toed shoes or, even better, boots sprayed with permethrin. Your children can be at particular risk. While ticks are unlikely to be encountered in open fields, children chasing balls or cutting through scrub or woods are entering high-risk tick areas.
Your best protection against a tick-borne infection, Hickling says, is a careful tick check.
“Check immediately after being outside and again in the evening while you are undressing. Do thorough checks of your children and pets. If you find an attached tick, simply use tweezers to remove them. Definitely avoid folk remedies such as hot matches, nail polish remover, petroleum jelly or other substances — these will not work if the tick is firmly attached. Grasp the tick mouthparts as close to the skin as possible and pull the tick straight out using steady pressure.”
Wash the area with soap and water, then dry and apply a topical antiseptic.
Mark the spot where the tick was removed and record the date on your calendar. Watch during the next two weeks for signs of illness (fever, headache or spreading rash.) Contact your physician if you feel you may be developing early symptoms of a tick-borne illness.
Consider keeping ticks that were firmly attached for a week or so, to be able to show to your doctor in the event that you start to become ill. Place the tick in rubbing alcohol or in the freezer.
But keep in mind that most tick bites in Tennessee will be harmless. So be sure to get outside and enjoy our state’s abundant natural beauty while keeping these sensible precautions in mind.
For more information, visit the Tick Encounter Resource Center, http://tickencounter.org/prevention
The UT Institute of Agriculture provides instruction, research and public service through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT AgResearch, with its system of 10 research and education centers, and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.

Dr. Graham Hickling, 865-974-6173