Ticks are more than just an annoyance during the summer. Unlike many other insects, different types of ticks can pose potential health risks. Although they may look similar, many types of ticks can have serious health consequences. An in-depth look at the different types of ticks can help you stay safe outdoors and at home.
What Are the Different Types of Ticks?
Although there are over 800 species of ticks, there are two main categories that reside in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control consider a handful of these ticks dangerous. Before assuming a tick is harmless, it's important to understand the different types of ticks.
Hard Shell Ticks
Hard shell ticks go through three life stages. Beginning with the larval stage, they pass through the nymph and then adult cycle of life. They are frequently called “three host ticks” because they need one feeding of blood per life stage.
During a tick's feeding period, they may attach to their host for three days before finishing. Because it is difficult to feel a tick, they can go undetected during the entire feeding process. Depending on outside circumstances, a tick can successfully complete an entire life cycle between three months and three years.
Hard shell ticks are frequently found in wooded areas. Tall grass and weeds can hide the ticks, making it easier for them to attach to a host. One hard shell tick can lay anywhere from 3,000 to 8,000 eggs per batch. Once she has laid her eggs, the female tick then dies.
There are five types of hardshell ticks:
The American dog tick is a type of wood tick found all over the United States. They are reddish brown and are known to transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever as well as tularemia. In their adult stage, they prefer to feed on dogs; but that does not mean they won't use humans as a potential host. Some of the symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever include a high fever, chills, joint and muscle aches, nausea and possible neurological changes.
The Blacklegged tick is most commonly known as the deer tick. This tick can cause Lyme disease in anyone it feeds off of. Like the American dog tick, they are also reddish brown, but these are primarily found in Northeastern and Midwestern parts of the United States. Lyme disease is tricky to treat if it's not caught in the early stages. Symptoms range from rashes and fatigue to cognitive decline and other neurological dysfunction.
Gulf Coast Tick
The Gulf Coast tick is light brown in color and found in the Atlantic Coast and Gulf of Mexico. Although they primarily feed off of birds, livestock and small rodents, they have also been spotted on humans. Like the American dog tick, Gulf Coast ticks can transmit strains of spotted fever.
Brown Dog Tick
Brown dog ticks are the easiest to identify because of their name. These brown ticks are found mostly on dogs and have the ability to transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Unlike the Gulf Coast tick, these ticks are found all over the United States.
Lone Star Tick
Lone star ticks are easily identifiable. They are brown with a noticeable white patch on their backs. Primarily found in the Eastern and Southeastern regions of the United States, they latch on to white-tailed deer.
Types of Soft Shell Ticks
Unlike the hard shell ticks, there are fewer types of soft shell ticks. Although they also go through three life stages of development, it is difficult to distinguish between the stages. Unlike hard shell ticks, soft shell ticks need several blood feedings for each stage of development. Each stage can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days.
Different types of ticks react differently to feedings. While hard shell ticks expand their bodies while feeding, soft shell ticks appear leathery. They will stretch, but they do not distend. Most soft shell ticks are found in nests or caves and are mostly nocturnal.
Common Fowl Tick
The common fowl tick has many other names. Chicken tick, poultry tick and blue bugs are all names used to describe this dark brown tick. They can usually be found in wooden structures or where chicken or turkeys are raised. If you are bitten by a fowl tick, the skin at the sight of the bite may become irritated.
Relapsing Fever Tick
Relapsing fever ticks are another popular soft shell tick. These particular ticks carry bacterium that can cause relapsing fever. Frequently these ticks are found in areas with high rodent infestation. One of the difficulties with treating a relapsing fever tick bite comes from the lack of visual evidence. Bites are frequently unseen and can easily go undetected.
Do Ticks Pose a Health Risk?
Different types of ticks pose different health threats. How soon the bite is detected, which kind of tick caused the bite, and where the tick was located are all factors that can be very important in diagnosing a tick bite and any possible disease. Some of the most common tick-related illnesses can easily impact one's quality of life.
3 Common Tick-Spread Illnesses
Lyme disease is frequently spread by deer ticks that hide in high grass or wooded areas. Symptoms from Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue, depression, swollen lymph nodes and chills. Often there are signs of this particular bite that can be detected early on. Rashes and flu-like symptoms can follow anywhere from one to two weeks after the initial bite. If Lyme disease is suspected, it's imperative to see a doctor.
This is caused primarily by hard shell ticks. Q fever is a mild disease, but it carries flu-like symptoms. Although the symptoms may be less severe than Lyme disease, Q fever can resurface years after the initial infection. There is a possibility that this type of fever can cause serious damage to the heart, liver and even brain.
Colorado Tick Fever
Colorado tick fever is a viral infection. Found mostly in the western part of the United States, this disease is most commonly reported between April and July. Symptoms include headache, fever, loss of appetite, skin tenderness, muscle aches, light sensitivity and abdominal pain. The symptoms usually present anywhere from three to six days after a bite.
How to Effectively Get Rid of Ticks
Preparation is the first way to protect against ticks. While it's not always possible to avoid them, there are a few precautions that are helpful.
Keep Them Off
There are many types of tick repellant and specialized creams available for those who enjoy the outdoors. Whether you're using a spray or a topical ointment, though, know that these preventative measures may not be enough. Even if tick repellant is thoroughly applied to every exposed section of skin, ticks may still latch on. Since this method is not foolproof, other precautions are advised.
After spending any time outside, especially in wooded areas or tall grass, it's important to perform a tick inspection. First make sure to shower thoroughly after spending time outdoors. Once all clothing is removed, check to make sure there are no ticks hiding in any part of the material. If there are no ticks found, place each item of clothing in the dryer on high heat. Clothing should stay in the dryer for a minimum of fifteen minutes.
With a mirror, check under your arms, inside your belly button and ears as well as behind both knees. If there are any ticks present, it's important to use tweezers instead of plucking it off with just your fingers. With tweezers, it's more likely you'll be able to pull the entire tick out of the body.
Getting Rid of an Infestation
Sometimes prevention is not enough. If you have ticks in your yard and home, you need to get rid of them. To completely eradicate ticks from your home, at least three places need to be treated: your pets, home, and yard.
Getting rid of ticks that may live in or around pets should be the first priority. Sprays, baths, and special medication can all be used, depending on the animal. Yard sanitation is another key area to treat. Whether using liquid insecticide or a growth regulator, discuss with a professional what method is best to use.
Homes may be more difficult considering the type, space, and build. Ask a professional; but remember that leaving any of these three areas untreated may cause the problem to reappear over time.
Hard and soft shell ticks are the two main categories of ticks found in the United States. Although there are only two major categories, there are many different types of ticks within those two populations. No category is without its own set of problems, and, regardless of their shell, all types of ticks have the ability to carry disease. Instead of avoiding ticks all together, understand where they live, what they look like, and how to deal with them. This is the best way to stay safe.