Ticks are present throughout Fairfax County and are often found in wooded areas, brushy fields, along trails and around homes. Ticks can spread diseases like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis. Preventing tick bites, controlling ticks around your yard and prompt removal of ticks are important ways to help prevent tick bites and the diseases that ticks may transmit.
Prevent Tick Bites
Avoiding tick bites is the best way to prevent tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease. It is important to be extra vigilant from March through October when ticks are most active and people spend more time outdoors. Blacklegged ticks, which potentially transmit Lyme disease, are also active on warm winter days when the temperature is greater than 40 °F.
Minimize Direct Contact With Ticks
- Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter
- Walk in the center of trails.
- Maintain a tick-free yard.
Repel Ticks on Skin and Clothing
- Use a repellent with at least 20 percent DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin and clothing to help repel ticks. Follow the label instructions. Parents should apply repellents to their children, avoiding hands, eyes and mouth.
- Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents) with products containing 0.5% permethrin. The active ingredient remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and may offer longer lasting protection. Read and follow the label instructions for proper use.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an online tool to help you select the repellent that is best for you and your family.
Check for Ticks
Find and Remove Ticks From Your Body
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (ideally within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
- While outside, take breaks to check yourself for ticks. Do a full-body tick check after spending time in areas where ticks may have been present; use a hand-held or full-length mirror or have someone help you check the hard-to-see places on your body. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
- Ticks vary in size and color depending on the species and life stage. Tthey can be smaller than a freckle or around ¼ inch in diameter. Many of the ticks that bite people are brown or red and some may have white spots or lines. Check out the blacklegged tick next to a dime.
- Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine animals, coats and backpacks.
- Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on clothing after you come indoors.
- If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed.
- If the clothes require washing first, hot water is recommended. Cold and medium temperature water will not kill ticks effectively. If the clothes cannot be washed in hot water, tumble dry on low heat for 90 minutes or high heat for 60 minutes. The clothes should be warm and completely dry.
Don't panic if you find a tick attached to your skin. There are several tick removal devices available on the market, but a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers will work just as well.
In most cases, a blacklegged tick must be attached for approximately 36 hours before it can transmit Lyme disease. Only infected ticks transmit disease and not all ticks are infected. Since there is no easy way to tell if a tick is infected, it is important to remove any attached ticks as soon as possible to reduce chances of infection. Once you remove the tick, you can bring it to Fairfax County Health Department for identification.
How to Remove an Attached Tick
Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible.
Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick; this may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin.
After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite site and wash your hands with soap and water.
Bring the tick to the Health Department for free tick identification service.
Do not squeeze, crush, or puncture the body of the tick because its fluids may contain infectious organisms.
Do not use nail polish, petroleum jelly, or a hot match to make the tick detach from your skin.
When to See a Doctor
It’s important to know the symptoms of tick-borne diseases so you can seek early treatment when necessary. Symptoms of many tick-borne diseases include, but are not limited to:
- Achy muscles and joints.
If you are concerned that you may have contracted a tick-borne illness, consult your physician as soon as possible.
Learn more about Lyme disease and other diseases spread by ticks.
- Lyme and tick-borne diseases
- Common ticks in Fairfax County
- Have a tick-free yard
- Free tick identification service
- Life cycle of hard ticks that spread disease - CDC
- Geographical distribution of ticks in the United States - CDC
- How to remove a tick - CDC