Although blacklegged ticks, which can spread Lyme disease, are most prevalent during the summer months, they are active the entire year as long as temperatures are above freezing. Peak activity months for adult blacklegged ticks, also commonly referred to as deer ticks, are October, November and April, as well as May and June for nymphs, said Steven E. Yergeau, environmental and resource management agent at Rutgers Cooperative Extension.
Ocean County, which is the second largest county in New Jersey, has many parks and recreational areas for people to traverse, making residents and visitors more susceptible to tickborne illnesses. Prevention, including wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and using insect repellent containing DEET on skin or clothing, or permethrin-containing repellent on clothes, is key. For detection purposes, it is best to avoid wearing black clothing.
Limiting outdoor activities at dawn and dusk and making sure screen doors and windows are in good condition are also important prevention tips.
Individuals who find a tick on themselves may bring it in a sealed container for onsite identification at the cooperative extension center on Whitesville Road in Toms River, Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. A drop-off box in the lobby is open 24 hours a day for those who are unable to come in during office hours; drop-offs will be addressed immediately the following business day. The service is provided for free by trained master gardeners.
“The main importance is to figure out what kind of tick you have in the hope of either screening out whether or not it’s a type of tick that can transmit Lyme disease,” said Yergeau. “We strictly just do the identification. We don’t do further testing.
“If they do happen to get a deer tick or a blacklegged tick on them, then we provide them information if they want to take the tick to go have it tested to see whether or not it is a carrier for the Lyme disease organism that transmits the disease,” he added.
A common sign of Lyme disease is red swelling of the skin in a circular pattern or bull’s eye. If this occurs, Yergeau recommends seeing a physician right away.
Ticks should be removed, with tweezers, as close to the skin as possible, using a steady, backward force. Do not use alcohol, nail polish, hot matches, petroleum jelly or other such removal methods, Yergeau urged. The tick’s mouthpiece, which can sometimes be left on the skin, does not transmit disease on its own and will eventually work its way out.
For more information about preventing tick bites, watch the center’s tick identification video at youtube.com/watch?v=Opj0KxLNCSU or call 732-349-1246. Yergeau also suggests verifying information through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at cdc.gov/ticks/index.html.