Frequently Asked Questions : Get TickSmart! Use our TickSmart categories to find appropriate links to additional content in TERC.

Tick-Bite Prevention

1. What are the best preventive measures against ticks when preparing for a weekend hike through the woods? K.N. Medfield MA

TERC Answer: We used to tell people to use DEET repellents, tuck your pants into your socks, walk in the center of the trail, and to do a thorough tick check when you get home. Although those strategies can help reduce the risk of tick bites and disease, people didn't like the feel of repellents on skin, or the look of long pants tucked into socks. Moreover, the poppy-seed sized nymphal deer ticks were hard to find.

We now encourage people to plan a little bit ahead--treat shoes, socks, shorts/pants, and shirt with PERMETHRIN tick repellent the day before going on the hike. Let it dry onto the fabric (takes about an hour or two), then go out and have fun! It is still good to practice walking down the center of the trail, and try to remember to do a tick check when you get home, but if you are wearing clothes treated with PERMETHRIN tick repellent, there is a [much reduced likelihood] that a tick will be able to bite - even if you are wearing shorts! More good news - your treated clothes are ready to protect you the next time you venture into tick country, whether it is on a hike or just playing/working around the yard (note: at-home treated clothes can be washed up to 6 times, while Insect Shield clothes are still effective after 70 washes).

You can sign up to our mailing list at the top of the page to have TERC remind you when it is time to renew your PERMETHRIN clothing treatment.

2. I saw a TERC presentation and it was said there was a way to send your clothing to Insect Shield to be treated so as to be good for 70 washings. I cannot locate any information on either their web site or yours. Can you please send me the information regarding how to do this?

TERC Answer: Insect Shield has the form on their web page here: http://www.insectshield.com/work/Casual-Wear-C18.aspx. The link is in the left side menu bar, currently (June 2012) second from the bottom above distributors. You can also download the form via TERC, (2.1 MB).

3. A week ago, I spent a day botanizing on Prudence and Patience Islands in Narragansett Bay. I think that a small, speedy brown mite-like creature penetrated my socks (pants were tucked into socks and DEET applied to socks and bottom of pants) and made a bracelet of many bites around my ankles. The bites were round as a pencil eraser or a bit smaller, with blisters and they itched like crazy! No creatures remained attached and I was unable to capture one. Your thoughts, please. A.W., Portsmouth, RI

TERC Answer: Since this incident occurred in late July on those islands, and you reportedly were wearing socks with your cuffs tucked in, it would seem that something very small had to have penetrated your socks. Depending on the tightness of the weave, you could have been attacked by numerous seed ticks, or larvae of the Lone Star tick, which is abundant on those islands. They are very tiny, and you may have mistaken these tiny attached ticks as a blister on your bite. The reaction you describe sounds typical of delayed type hypersensitivity, which suggests that you have been bitten before by such ticks. Although you were smart to tuck your cuffs into your socks, we recommend tucking pant cuffs into calf-high cotton tube socks treated with permethrin. Even if you are wearing shorts, permethrin-treated shoes and socks will still be protective. There are new treatment kits in the marketplace that allow you to impregnate permethrin into your clothing, which will provide good protection. DEET is just not a very good clothing repellent against ticks-for the best protection when venturing into tick habitat, use DEET repellents on your skin in addition to wearing permethrin-treated clothing.

4. I see on your website that you talk about perimeter sprays and "tick tubes" for controlling deer ticks. Does one method work better than another? Also, where can you buy "tick tubes"? C.A., Easthampton, NY

TERC Answer: Actually, the host-targeted Damminix Tick Tubes and the habitat-targeted perimeter sprays are complimentary deer tick control strategies. When used together in a program, we believe they provide outstanding protection from tick encounter, especially for backyards and well-defined recreational areas in parks, camps, schoolyards, etc. Tick Tubes work specifically to kill larval and nymphal ticks bloodfeeding on mice, which are the main source of infection to ticks. Mice take the permethrin-treated nesting material from the Tick Tubes back to their nest, and are generally tick-free thereafter. Killing larvae before they can become infected serves to reduce both the number of nymphal ticks in a treated area and, more importantly, the proportion of ticks that carry infection. Tick Tubes should be applied in July/August (when larvae are actively feeding) and again in April/May, in areas where mice will find them.

Perimeter spray treatments target deer tick habitat, where deer tick encounter risk is highest. High pressure sprays turn leaf litter over and kill nymphal deer ticks that previously fed on mice, as well as a wide array of other animals that may not take the treated nesting material found in Tick Tubes. These sprays are most effective if applied when nymphs are active. We recommend 2 treatments, mid-/late May and mid-June, applied by a trained professional pest control company with high pressure sprayers.

Both Tick Tubes and perimeter spray treatments are available from companies advertising tick control services, or go to www.TickTubes.com for more information about purchasing Tick Tubes.

5. I don't feel comfortable wearing permethrin treated clothing or DEET every time I venture outside (although I do have my Insect Shield pants for the heavier duty walking), but for some added peace of mind I was wondering about the efficacy of "natural" repellents. There are many products on the market containing ingredients such as citric acid, peppermint oil, lemongrass, citronella, etc. I don't know if they can even begin to compete with the real pesticides, but is there any evidence to support the use of such products?

I am sure my nerves will return to a state of relative normalcy once my traumatic incident is less fresh in my mind, but in the meantime I want to arm myself appropriately, and in order to do so I need to better know my enemy. Thanks for any insight you can provide! Elana, Chicago, IL

TERC Answer: To help ease your concern regarding tick repellent clothing, take a look at another TickEncounter application (Should I Wear Tick Repellent Clothing?) to better appreciate the margin of safety you have. TickEncounter has not done extensive testing with the variety of natural repellents flooding the market but there are some credible reports that a few compounds (such as nookatone) may be somewhat effective in repelling. Unfortunately, that compound is not yet available in product form. You should know that product claims of tick repellency usually are largely based on studies done in petri dishes in the lab. Few of these products have ever been evaluated under field conditions with real tick encounters.

Disclaimer: TickEncounter Resource Center FAQ answers come from a variety of expert sources, including Dr. Mather’s nearly 30 years of active tick research and study of tick-borne disease prevention. Our mission is to engage, educate and empower people to take tick bite protection and disease prevention actions. TERC staff are not medical doctors and do not diagnose tick-borne disease or make treatment recommendations. If you are experiencing disease symptoms, please consult a knowledgeable medical doctor to determine treatment methods best for your situation.