Ticks are insidious little parasites. They detect breath, body odor, body heat, moisture, vibrations, and the presence of light and shadows to find a well-traveled path. Once they've staked out a hiding place, they patiently cling to the end of a leaf or blade of grass with two of their eight legs outstretched, waiting for an unsuspecting animal or human to walk by. As soon as a host brushes against the hiding place, the tick climbs aboard and searches for a hidden crevice to insert its barbed feeding tube and siphon the host's blood.

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If the thought of a host of tiny parasites gorging themselves on your blood doesn't creep you out enough to take tick prevention seriously, here's something that certainly will: ticks spread a variety of harmful diseases. These include anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, Colorado tick fever, tickborne relapsing fever, powassan disease, and tick paralysis — and that's not even a complete list.

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A graph of tick activity based on life cycle stage. Nymphs and adults feed on humans; larva feed on smaller animals....

Ticks are most dangerous to humans in late spring and summer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Lyme disease is the most common infection spread by ticks, and affects approximately 30,000 Americans each year.

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In order to avoid contracting a tick-borne illness, it's best to avoid ticks altogether. Here are some tips provided by the CDC for tick prevention:

  • Treat your clothing, boots, socks, and tents with 0.5% permethrin solution for long-term protection.
  • Treat exposed skin with DEET for several hours of protection.
  • Avoid thick wooded areas and tall brush, especially during warmer months.
  • Stick to the center of trails to prevent contact with vegetation.

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  • Bathe or shower immediately after returning from outdoor excursions.
  • Check your entire body for ticks daily. Common areas include under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and the hair/scalp.
  • Check all clothing, shoes, packs, gear, and pets for ticks. Tumble dry clothes on high heat for at least 10 minutes to kill any stowaways.

If a tick is found on your person, and has already bitten you, follow our guide on safe tick removal. Preventative measures should also be taken around your home to prevent ticks on your property or in your yard. Here's a helpful CDC map that shows how to structure your property with a 3-yard migration barrier between wooded areas and heavily-traveled areas:

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For an even more in-depth guide to tick prevention and avoidance, download this PDF of the Tick Management Handbook. It was written by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station with funding provided by the CDC, and includes virtually everything you'll ever want to know about ticks. Also, check out this visual guide about Tickborne Diseases of the United States.

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