Dear Dr. Johnson: How can I prevent my child from getting tick bites?

Dear Reader: It’s that time of year — state health officials are predicting this will be a worse year than usual for ticks. I can tell you from the number of phone calls and office visits regarding ticks I’ve had in the last month, it does seem worse than usual.

Ticks like warm, moist weather and we have had a lot of it recently. Ticks are found most commonly in tall grass and low-lying trees and bushes. They do not jump or fall from trees, so catching a ride on us requires us brushing up against the trees or grass.

Wood ticks and deer ticks are the most common ticks in Wisconsin that bite humans. Wood ticks are larger. Deer ticks are smaller and range in size from about a poppy seed to a sesame seed.

Images can be found online to help identify the species. Knowing what kind of tick it is can be helpful because deer ticks can transmit Lyme disease while wood ticks do not.

The first step is prevention. Walking on cleared trails can help to decrease chances of ticks hitching a ride. Insect spray (use those with less than 30 percent DEET) also can repel ticks.

Deer ticks must be attached more than 36 to 48 hours to transmit Lyme disease, so nightly tick checks can prevent ticks from being attached this long. Check behind ears, in hair, on the back, etc., to remove any ticks. If they haven’t attached to the skin, they can simply be picked up between fingers and squashed.

If the tick is attached, there are a couple ways to try removal. Using something hot or cold is not recommended. You can first try a cotton ball soaked in soap (handsoap or dishsoap will do). Cover the tick for about 30 seconds and the tick may release and would then be attached to the cotton ball.

The other method I have had the best luck with is using a tweezers. Grasp the tick on its head as close to the skin as you can. With gentle pressure, pull the tick until it releases. Do not yank, as this is more likely to leave parts of the head.

If parts of the head are left and you can easily remove them with the tweezers with gentle pressure, you can do so. But most of the time, trying to remove these small pieces will do more harm than good. With time, the body will create some inflammation around them and expel them. Warm compresses or soaks can sometimes speed this process.

Animals also should be checked for ticks, as the ticks can come into the home on the pet and then move to a human.

While ticks aren’t the most pleasant creatures, don’t let them stop you or your child from enjoying the great outdoors.

This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Johnson to people submitting questions.

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