Limiting exposure to ticks is the most
effective way to reduce the likelihood of
Rocky Mountain spotted fever infection. In persons exposed to tick-infested habitats, prompt
careful inspection and removal of crawling or attached ticks is an
important method of preventing disease. It may take several hours of
attachment before organisms are transmitted from the tick to the host.
Currently, no licensed vaccine is available for Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
It is unreasonable to assume that a person can
completely eliminate activities that may result in tick exposure.
Therefore, prevention measures should be aimed at personal protection:
- Wear light-colored clothing to allow you to see
ticks that are crawling on your clothing.
- Tuck your pants legs into your socks so that ticks cannot
crawl up the inside of your pants legs.
- Apply repellants to discourage tick attachment.
Repellents containing permethrin can be sprayed on boots and clothing,
and will last for several days. Repellents containing DEET (n,
n-diethyl-m-toluamide) can be applied to the skin, but will last only a
few hours before reapplication is necessary. Use DEET with caution on
children. Application of large amounts of DEET on children has been
associated with adverse reactions.
- Conduct a body check upon return from potentially
tick-infested areas by searching your entire body for ticks. Use a
hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Remove
any tick you find on your body.
- Parents should check their children for ticks,
especially in the hair, when returning from potentially tick-infested
areas. Additionally, ticks may be carried into the household on
clothing and pets. Both should be examined carefully.
Figure 17. Removal of an embedded
tick using fine-tipped tweezers
To remove attached ticks, use the following procedure:
1. Use fine-tipped tweezers or shield your fingers
with a tissue, paper towel, or rubber gloves (Figure 17). When possible, persons should avoid removing ticks
with bare hands.
2. Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as
possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure (Figure 18). Do not twist or
jerk the tick; this may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in
the skin. (If this happens, remove mouthparts with
tweezers. Consult your health care provider if infection occurs.)
Figure 18. Tick Removal
3. Do not squeeze, crush, or puncture the body of the
tick because its fluids (saliva, body fluids, gut contents) may contain
4. After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the
bite site and wash your hands with soap and water.
5. Save the tick for identification in case you become
ill. This may help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis.
Place the tick in a plastic bag and put it in your freezer. Write the
date of the bite on a piece of paper with a pencil and place it in the
Folklore Remedies Don't Work!
Folklore remedies, such as the use of
petroleum jelly or hot matches,
do little to encourage a tick to detach from skin. In fact, they may make
matters worse by irritating the tick and stimulating it to release
additional saliva or regurgitate gut contents, increasing the chances of transmitting the pathogen. These methods of tick
removal should be avoided. A number of tick removal devices have been
marketed, but none are better than a plain set of fine tipped tweezers.
Strategies to reduce populations of vector ticks through
area-wide application of acaricides (chemicals that will kill ticks and
mites) and control of tick habitats (e.g., leaf litter and brush) have
been effective in small-scale trials. New methods being developed include
applying acaricides to rodents by using baited tubes, boxes, and feeding stations in areas where these pathogens are endemic.
Biological control with fungi, parasitic nematodes, and parasitic wasps
may play alternate roles in integrated tick control efforts.
Community-based, integrated, tick-management strategies may prove to be an
effective public health response to reduce the incidence of tick-borne
infections. However, limiting exposure to ticks is currently the most
effective method of prevention.