With spring in full bloom and summer well on the way, Oklahoma families heading outdoors to enjoy the warmer temperatures should take extra care to protect themselves against ticks.
Though ticks are active year-round throughout the state, from now through the end of summer, hard ticks will be a main concern, said Justin Talley, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension livestock entomologist.
“Our biggest concerns would be the American dog tick and the lone star tick because these two are involved with tick-borne pathogens,” Talley said.
The American dog tick has been linked to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
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“Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a challenge because, especially on the eastern half of Oklahoma, you’re going to have high tick populations in areas that can harbor a lot of ticks and a lot of human contact,” Talley said. “Anybody who is going to a state park or simply out on their land needs to be aware we have a high incidence of RMSF.”
Meanwhile, the lone star tick is associated with multiple pathogens, including those connected to the Heartland and Bourbon viruses, which have been identified in Oklahoma within the last five years.
Ticks are not discerning when it comes to hosts, which means anyone who is outside is at risk for being bitten. The most effective repellants are products with at least 15 percent DEET.
“If you’re going to be in areas where ticks also are likely to be, apply repellant, especially around the ankles, up to the knees and around the waistline,” Talley said. “If you’ll be in heavy brush, like trimming trees or bushes, also put repellant around the neck and all the way to the ankles because ticks will fall out of that vegetation.”
Some natural, plant-based products, such as citrus oil and lemon grass oil, also can serve as repellants. While these options are less effective than DEET, parents may prefer using natural products on children.
“Some parents don’t like putting DEET on their kids, so if you put these natural products on them, make sure to apply it in the areas ticks will target, especially around their ankles and waistlines,” Talley said. “Both adults and children will need to keep reapplying natural products to boost their effectiveness.”