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City of Alexandria, VA City of Alexandria, VA
Health Department
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Page updated Jun 7, 2012 2:57 PM
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Tick Information and Prevention

Alexandria is home to many gardens, parks, and green areas that support all types of vegetation, wildlife, and, unfortunately, ticks.  Use the information below to educate yourself, your friends, and your family about ticks, the diseases they can carry, and how to protect against them.

 

 

 

 

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Identifying Ticks

Ticks are arachnids that are close relatives to spiders.  They can vary in size from that of a poppy seed to that of an apple seed.  They can be found in Alexandria’s vegetation. 

In Alexandria, we may find:

Deer Tick
Ixodes scapularis

American Dog Tick
Dermacentor variabilis

Lone Star Tick
Amblyomma Aamericanum

Blacklegged Deer Tick

Am Dog Tick

lone star tick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only some of these ticks carry diseases that can infect humans.  See tick-borne diseases or more information.

Alexandria residents can bring ticks to Environmental Health office at the Alexandria Health Department for identification by one of our staff.  See our office information and hours below.

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Tick Biology

tick life cycleA tick’s lifecycle varies by the tick species and the climate.  The typical lifecycle is one to two years and includes four stages of growth: egg, larva, nymph and adult. 

After hatching from eggs, the larvae, nymphs and adults all need to take a blood meal to complete their life cycle.  It is during this process of feeding that a tick can transmit diseases to its host.  Usually ticks in the nymph and adult stages are responsible for transmitting diseases.

Ticks do not jump or fly onto people or animals.  Instead, they use a method called “questing“, which is when a tick waits on low vegetation and attaches itself to a host as he or she passes.  Ticks identify hosts through cues such as carbon dioxide as well as heat and movement.

Once a tick attaches to a host, it can feed for several days to several weeks.  If a tick has a disease, the disease is not transmitted to the host immediately--it can take several hours (or even days) after biting for the host to get the disease.

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Diseases Carried by Ticks

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists common symptoms of tick-borne infections.  When diagnosed properly, tick-borne diseases can usually be treated with antibiotics. 

  • lyme rashLyme Disease symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and sometimes the characteristic bull’s-eye like skin rash (see picture).  If left untreated, infection can spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system. 
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) symptoms include fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, and muscle pain.  A rash may also develop, but is often absent in the first few days, and in some patients, never develops.  Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be severe or even fatal if not treated within the first few days of symptoms.  
  • Ehrlichiosis symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches.  Usually, these symptoms occur within one to two weeks following a tick bite. 
    All tick-borne diseases are preventable if simple steps are taken to reduce exposure to ticks.

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Increase of Tick-Borne Diseases

Lyme disease, the most prevalent vector-borne disease in the U.S, affects people in almost every state.  Lyme disease is now considered a peridomestic disease with 75% of all tick bite infections occurring from exposures around one’s own property.  There are nearly 18,000 reported cases annually in the US.  In 2010, there were eleven reported human Lyme disease cases in the City of Alexandria, an all-time high (Fig. 1).

 Since 2007, the state of Virginia has experienced significant increases in the number of reported Lyme disease cases and other tick-borne infections (Fig. 2).  Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Ehrlichiosis are also transmitted by tick species found in Virginia.  One probable case of Rocky Mountain spotted fever was identified in Alexandria in 2009.

AlexLymeCases 
Figure 1

VirginiaTickborneDisease
                                                                                  Figure 2

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Protection and Prevention

high weedsPeople who live, work, or play in places near woods or overgrown brush are at risk of contracting a tick-borne disease.  Preventive measures can help reduce the risk of exposure. It is important to avoid infested areas, especially in the spring. Ticks thrive in moist, shaded environments where deer and rodent hosts are abundant.

While it is a good idea to take preventive measures against ticks year-round, be extra vigilant in warmer months (April-September) when ticks are most active.  Wearing light-colored clothing makes it easier to find ticks before they bite.  Long-sleeved shirts, tucking pants into boots or socks, and wearing boots that come up above the ankles can also help.

According to the CDC, you should check yourself upon return from tick-infested areas.  You should also consider periodic ‘tick checks’ ever few hours during outside play.  You may want to do this while reapplying sunscreen or insect repellent.  Remember to:

  • Bathe or shower after coming indoors, preferably within two hours, to wash off or find ticks that are crawling on you.  This will also reduce your exposure to other skin irritants such as poison ivy, poison oak, etc.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body.
  • Parents should check their children under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and hair.
    Should you find an attached tick, use the procedure described below.
  • Examine gear and pets. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill undiscovered ticks.

There are no human vaccines for tick-borne diseases.  Insect repellents that contain DEET or permethrin are effective ways to prevent tick bites.  Sprays that contain 20% or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) can last up to several hours when applied on the exposed skin for protection.   Parents should avoid hands, eyes, and mouth when applying this product to their children. 

Permethrin products should be used on clothes.  Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents.  It remains protective through several washings.  Pre-treated clothing is available and remains protective for up to 70 washings.  Always follow product instructions.  Other repellents registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may be found at http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect/

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Removing Ticks

Because ticks do not transmit disease until they have been attached to the host for several hours to several days, it is important to remove ticks as soon as they are found.  The following is the best way to remove ticks:

  1. Grasp it with tweezers as close to the skin as possible.  Fine tipped tweezers tick removalwork best.  Gently, but firmly, pull the tick straight out.  Avoid any twisting or jerking motion.  The tick’s mouth parts may break off into the skin.  This may cause skin irritation or a skin infection if the mouth parts are left in the wound, but these will not increase the transmission of tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease.
  2. After the tick has been removed, wash your hands with warm soapy water.  Apply an antiseptic to the bite site. If a rash appears, call your doctor, who may have you take antibiotics as a preventive measure.
  3. Dispose of the tick properly or save it in rubbing alcohol for identification if you suspect a risk of disease transmission.  Alexandria residents can bring ticks to Environmental Health office at the Alexandria Health Department for identification.

Do not attempt to remove the tick using nail polish, petroleum jelly, alcohol or a hot match as this is unsafe and can also increase possible disease transmission. 

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Ticks and Pets

kids with dog

Dogs are very susceptible to tick bites and tick-borne diseases.  Vaccines for pets are not available for all tick-borne diseases, and they don’t keep pets from bringing ticks into your home.  For these reasons, it’s important to use a tick preventive product on your pet.  Tick bites on dogs may be hard to detect. Signs of tick-borne disease may not appear for seven to 21 days or longer after a tick bite, so watch your pet closely for changes in behavior or appetite if you suspect it’s been bitten by a tick.

To reduce the chances that a tick will transmit disease to you or your pets: 

  • Check your pets for ticks daily, especially after they spend time outdoorsdog and cat.
  • If you find a tick on your dog, remove it right away.
  • Ask your veterinarian to conduct a tick check at each exam.
  • Talk with your veterinarian about tick-borne diseases in your area and about using tick preventives on your pet. 

Note: Cats are extremely sensitive to a variety of chemicals. Do not apply any insect repellents to your cats without first consulting your veterinarian!

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Local Resources

Vector-Borne Illness Prevention Program
Environmental Health Division
Alexandria Health Department
4480 King Street, Rm 361
Alexandria, VA 22302

Phone: 703.746.4910 (ask about ticks)
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (M,Tu,W,F) and 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Th)

Other websites include:

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4480 King Street
Alexandria, VA, 22302
703.746.4996
Fax: 703.746.4938
E-mail 

Office Hours:
Monday - Friday
8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Closed Thursday Mornings