The Intriguing World of Ticks
We sat down with Dr. Brian Leydet, a SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry professor, to talk about ticks.
Dr. Leydet has studied ticks for over 15 years, starting in the Southern United States and then moving to the Northeast. His work primarily focuses on understanding the behavior and spatial distribution of ticks. Interestingly, he notes that tick infection rates can vary significantly even from one backyard to another, highlighting their complex nature.
One of the key takeaways from Dr. Leydet's research is the importance of understanding the biological influences on where ticks are located. By grasping this, we can better protect ourselves against the diseases they carry. He parallels mosquito-borne diseases, where protective measures like bed nets help prevent bites. Similarly, with ticks, understanding their behavior is crucial in developing effective prevention strategies.
Dr. Leydet also debunks some common myths about ticks. For instance, ticks do not fly or jump; they are relatively immobile creatures that rely on hosts for movement. He also stresses the importance of proper tick removal, recommending fine-toothed tweezers to remove them effectively.
This conversation underscored the critical role of knowledge in tick prevention. The more we understand ticks and their behaviors, the less fearful and more prepared we become. From wearing permethrin-treated clothing from Insect Shield to performing thorough tick checks, we can help significantly reduce our risk of tick-borne diseases.
Shop Insect Shield's full assortment of repellent clothing.
Transcript of the Interview
Mary: Hi, it's Mary with Insect Shield. I am here today with Dr. Brian Leydet. He is a professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Welcome, Brian.
Brian: Hi Mary. Thanks for having me.
Mary: Absolutely. First off, can you tell us about your background and what you're up to these days?
Brian: Yeah. So I've I've started researching ticks about 15 years ago in the Southern United States. My background is in public health, but I did my PhD at Louisiana school, Louisiana state university school, veterinary medicine, go tigers. And did my work on on tick starting in Florida, then to Louisiana moved up to the Adirondacks here in upstate New York for my post doc. Studied ticks up here, and found a position here at SUNY College of Environmental State SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry about seven, eight years ago. And I've been studying the behavior of ticks in the Northeast since then.
Mary: Okay just to start what got you interested in ticks in the first place?
Brian: That's a great story. Initially I was actually a paramedic. I was in emergency medicine for a long time and I thought that was going to be my life track. But then I met a critical mentor in my life, Dr. Kerry Clark at University of North Florida. I'll have to give him a shout out. And he took me under his wing because I was eager enough and volunteered in his lab and got me hooked on ticks and from then on, my, I knew my path was to study ticks I didn't want to study anything else. Now that has changed as I've branched out into other forms, but still mainly my focus and my my love of the other, my family and friends are ticks
Mary: So now, what are you studying now specifically about ticks and what have you been focusing on?
Brian: right? So my lab does a lot of different things. Right now during COVID, we're a little, we're a little under, but since COVID, we've really buckled up and we brought in a bunch of students and we're doing projects. Understanding the spatial nature of ticks, right? You can imagine, and I, people like to ask me, what's how are, how many ticks are infected?
And I'm from, I'm in Syracuse, New York. How many ticks are infected in Syracuse, New York? And I'm like that's a kind of a loaded trick question because tick infection can vary from backyard to backyard. And that's one of the interesting natures of this disease is that ticks don't move much in nature, right?
They're, they move up and down, the black legged tick especially. And then, horizontally, they have to take a ride, right? They have a vehicle, they have the mice, the deer those animals. Just like we get in our car and drive somewhere ticks need to do the same thing. And Because of that, if we can understand how mice are moving in nature, how we drive cars, you can predict spatial distribution, distributions of the majority of ticks, and you can actually change that using certain cues or certain things.
So we're investigating what, if we can predict or investigate what, or understand what determines where ticks are in the landscape. Because ultimately The diseases that ticks spread are only a problem if ticks bite humans. If we can eliminate the bite, Either through protective measures or through eliminating the the encounter, then you decrease, we, you decrease the likelihood of disease.
We do it with mosquito borne diseases like malaria, right? We give out bed nets, and if we sleep under a bed net, you protect yourself. That is protecting you from the actual bite of the mosquito. Now it may sound a little harder with ticks, and it certainly is but understanding the biology of what's influencing where they are is what my lab is looking at.
As well as things like novel detection methods. We collecting ticks is a very person power intensive feat. We have to go out with little white flags and drag them miles to get ticks. And so I have some students investigating maybe more passive methods to detect ticks, especially in new areas.
We do it a lot with other insects. When you think about invasive insects, there's always monitoring programs. Via passive monitoring, maybe insect traps set out and insects stick to the traps or they fall in the traps and someone goes and monitor the traps, or more active processes where people are actually looking for the organisms.
And we're trying to look at maybe some novel passive strategies to detect new tick populations.
Mary: So would that be like a tick trap you would somehow make?
Brian: Kind of. There's a couple different options and I'll keep my student is very early in her master's degree on this. So I'll just keep that research. Look for stuff coming forward on that stuff, research.
Mary: Now I just had, this might be a little different off topic, but to, do we want to eradicate ticks or where do ticks fall in the chain of, because I know that's the thing like mosquitoes, people all get rid of all of them, but there's that whole, every part of nature is there and is food for something else.Like, where do ticks fit into that, and do we need ticks?
Brian: love this question because it's one of the questions I've been searching for my career or 15 years. Because mosquitoes, yeah, mosquitoes are pollinators. They could actually pollinate flowers. They serve some benefit. They serve as food sources for certain insectivores. Ticks don't have so much of a role in nature versus being other than being a parasite.
There are some probably evolutionary consequences to parasitism by ticks, but those are long term processes that, that are still not well understood. If there weren't ticks, I probably wouldn't have a job so that, that's a benefit for ticks being out there. Now as far as eradicating ticks, I would with our current tools available.
I would say that is not possible. So I don't think we need to focus on erratic eradication of the tick. I think it's a great not. I think it's under. We should be chasing it as scientists. But in the at the larger scale, eradication is probably not the way to go. There's Control knocking them down to a safe level.
Controlling exposure. And then, ultimately, ticks are not everywhere, yet. But they are certainly on the march. What we do with other invasives and is we, what we call is slow the spread. So we don't just let ticks come in and establish, because once they're established it's all downhill.
The problem is that we're not putting much effort on slowing the spread. So we need to put more of an effort on understanding where they aren't, and how we may slow them from getting to new areas. And again, I don't have answers for those, but some of the stuff we're interested in understanding.
Mary: Interesting. Were you, in your world, you all are out there, you want to collect ticks, you want to study ticks. When you're studying them, are you mostly looking at the germs? That, because that's the whole thing with ticks, is the germs passing the germs on to people.
Brian: That's the bread and butter of research, right? How does it affect humans? Because if they just bit and they didn't transmit anything, people would probably not be as concerned. But, and we, yeah, we do look at the germs, Lyme disease, biliary burgdorferi is one of the more common ones.
We look at things like Babesia and Anaplasma. But ultimately it comes back to the behavior of the organism itself, because without that behavior and that contact to humans, it would not be a problem. Those germs would just hang out in nature and we would not care. There are a lot of different species of ticks, right?
There are some ticks that a normal person would never encounter in their life, de despite them being in their backyard, right? Because they're associated. Strictly associated with hosts, whether they're in burrows or in, tree holes or in nests. It's just something you're not going to come into contact with.
And even though they may carry disease the likelihood they spread that to you is very low. So if we could think about other ticks that are more generalist feeding behaviors and understanding why they contact humans at the rate they, they do and can we change that is what we're really interested in.
I, I really like the behavior. We have a current project right now, and people may think it's crazy, is I have a student going out, and we collect the ticks. And every couple of meters, the student stops and they take the ticks off the little white flag and they throw them back.
Because we don't want to deplete the ticks, because we're doing repetitive sampling in an environment, and we don't want to take ticks away. It's called, it's called replacement sampling in scientific ways. Once we get something, we send it back, and then we could collect that tick again later.
Because that's, taking ticks off in nature at large rates is not natural. We do things like that to try to understand how they're moving and where they are in, in, in the environment. And I think it's pretty fascinating. It's a lot of work for the student but I think we're going to come up with some really cool findings.
Mary: Nice. Now, and correct me if I'm wrong, so ticks though, but like Lyme disease can affect humans, dogs, and is it horses?
Brian: So it's a lot of different animals. Horses can have some effects. Cats can have an effect. And I like to separate, and it's good for the audience, I like to separate disease. from the the presence of the bug the parasite, the Borrelia. Because disease is a manifestation of a negative effect on a host.
You could have a bad bug inside of you and not have quote unquote disease, right? For example, a lot of humans harbor a B hemolytic strep, which is the organism that causes strep throat, and they harbor it naturally in their throat. It's only a problem when the, your microbiome is imbalanced and that strep becomes more prominent and causes the strep throat.
That's a very basic example. But some dogs, and I like to do this because I went to a vet school and I was surrounded by vets, and one thing the vets would tell me is that humans are wimps, right? So a dog could potentially have an infection with Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease.
If they don't have signs or symptoms, is it really disease? Does it really warrant treatment? Does a vet even know? You have to think about, you have to balance that. Now, in humans, if you get bit by the tick and the bacteria gets into you, you're probably going to develop a disease, which is a sign or symptom, and you will get treated for that.
But in other organisms, it's really variable how they react, and whether it's truly, quote unquote, disease, or just An infection that may go away naturally.
Mary: And if you don't have if you don't have symptoms or you don't feel bad and you're not, then does it matter even like you could test that someone had the flu virus in them, but if you're not sick
Brian: do you take a Tylenol in the morning because you just think you may get a headache during the day? Or or you're like how does it hurt to take a Tylenol? No, you don't take drugs unless you have signs or symptoms. against, that your body's reacting to it.
Mary: Obviously now it's more in the news with asymptomatic, like with COVID, how many, people, I never got COVID and then they're like, but everyone in my family did well. I never, I felt fine. So did they like, if you're not feeling bad, then it doesn't matter if you had COVID or not had COVID for example.
Brian: It does on the side of transmission, right? You're still infectious. So it has that other caveat don't see in tick borne diseases. But as far as like feeling bad and diseased, did you actually, were you actually diseased? What, I teach a class about disease prevention and we always talk about what exactly is health.
And that is in the eye of the beholder, right? It's not a plus absence of disease because. You can wake up one day, I have my, I have some little flu running, or not flu, but sickness running through my family. I take some Dayquil, I'm at work, am I healthy? I'm healthy enough to work.
Am I sick? I have a little cough. We have to balance that. Some days, I'm too sick to get out of bed, right? So it's a more of a continuum
Mary: Yeah. And then I guess jumping onto Lyme disease, that's really the big topic of Lyme disease because many people get, I don't know what the percentage, but the people that. get bit, maybe they get the bullseye or not, or they feel sick, they immediately get treated, boom, they're fine, and then there's this other percentage of folks that are not diagnosed or don't have that relationship and then it's five years later and they're finally diagnosed and they realize why they've been sick for five years.
Brian: and it's not a small percent, right? There, the estimates are 10 to 20 percent that some people are changed for their life or the rest of their life. Some people are changed for a, an indiscriminate period of time, six months, one year, five years, 10 years, 15 years, and there, it's definitely true. It's happening.
It's. It's because of the past infection with the bacteria, what is happening in the human body, again, it gets down to that individual level like dogs and cats and horses, right? Some get sick, some don't. And we all have to realize that our bodies are all different.
And when we're scientists or when we're talking about public health, we're talking about general, right? And there's all the extremes. There's people on this end that may never have a, may just have a little sniffle. People on this end that are admitted to the hospital for the same infection.
But then there's the people in the middle, which are the majority of the population. And when we're trying to make a difference from treatment, from prevention, who do we target? The extremes? Or do we target the 95 percent of people that are in the middle of that hump? We, we often target those people realizing, yeah, there are extremes, but we're trying to do the most good, the biggest impact with the least resources.
And the first time is to go after the larger proportion and then work your way to everybody.
Mary: That makes sense. And I've spoken to people with, long term Lyme That they believe they were bit many years ago, and then they had a traumatic health event, and that almost, then they got, then like Lyme actually became an issue for their bodies.
Brian: Yeah. And, the again, this is not my expertise. I do follow the literature and I'm in the middle of this whole thing, but it's the human body and the response to. Stress or the immune system's response to things is very individual and a stressful or an event can cause a lot of downstream changes in the body or reactions that may or may not be due to prior infection, current infection future infection.
It's just to know that somebody is sick or not feeling good and to try to figure out how to make them better, whether it's through traditional medicine, integrative medicine, whether it's just. through living a healthier lifestyle, right? The goal is to make, the goal, and I'm not a physician, but I would imagine the goal for a physician was to make people feel better.
And that's where I stand on it. Again we stay out of the human stuff and I'm really on that tick. I'm like that guy's my interest. To benefit humans, no, no doubt.
Mary: Okay, so back to the tick itself. So what, so you're out there, you're studying them, learning their behavior, and is that, so the ultimate goal would be just, Understanding them better so people and other, and dogs and other mammals can not, will get less sick by being less bitten. Is that the,
Brian: Yeah, and I've recently been giving some talks and I came up with this this I don't know that we've spoken about this, but this Lyme disease equation or tick borne disease equation. Right? Thinking about it as a mathematical, like an operation, meaning, you have the tick, you add the host, the reservoir host, right?
They can differ, right? There's a whole spance of them. You add the bacteria, the Borrelia burgdorferi, you add the human, and that all equals the disease. When you're trying to change the disease, you take out little parts of the equation, right? Whether it's the tick, Which is hard. You can take the tick out, whether it's the host, whether it's the bacteria, through vaccination or other ring.
When we do it through hosts, we try to cull deer, we try to control mouse populations, or whether it's taking the human out of the equation through things like prevention, right? These are the kind of things where when, you know, when you think about it, okay, it makes sense when you put it up in visual terms, it really goes, okay, we're going to attack this and this, or maybe all of the above in certain ways to decrease that equality that equals disease, right?
To reduce that disease outcome. And I don't think it's going to be a silver bullet. It's got to be integrated. It's got to be integrated approach. But there's certainly things that we, there's certainly novel things that we can exploit in these systems. That my lab is investigating.
Mary: So when you're doing, when you're having talks and speaking to people about, tick prevention and what they can do what are your, what's your list?
Brian: It, we've heard it a million times, but it doesn't make it any less irrelevant to this conversation. And I'm happy to say, we hear, tuck your pants into your socks, right? Why? Because the ticks grab onto your lower extremities. They could crawl under your pants.
To your head or on top of your pants to your head. Where are you more likely to see them? Right that goes into those light colored clothing, right? So you can see that little black tick crawling up your leg and you can swat them off So it's not just saying and I like to say it's not just saying to do something But why we do it explain the biology or the mechanism behind it, right?
Things like wearing a kerosides on your skin, on your clothes, whatever they're, that they may be designed for repellents for your skin. Actual a caricides that kill the ticks on your clothing. That's another step of prevention. This integrated approach. After you're in an area where there could be ticks which is any grassy area, even my front yard has.
It can have ticks for a certain period of time. Doing a tick check when you get inside, right? What is that tick check? It's these areas where ticks like to attach. We know they attach everywhere, but we know there's areas like the groin, under the armpits, behind the ears, moist areas that you don't see on your back.
I do the freckle check. I know all my freckles, and if I see a new one, I go, that's probably not a freckle, right? Or my kid's freckles, right? It's amazing. I have two young ones. I have a six year old and a two year old. And, a lot of kids aren't born with freckles. They develop freckles over time.
So my six year old is starting to develop new freckles. And every time I see one, I'm like, is that a tick? And I'm like, no, it's not a tick, it's a but it's like an alert on my head, to see this. So doing that tick check if you have access to a dryer taking your clothes that you've been out in, throwing them in the dryer to dry out any tick that hasn't been attached.
If you don't have access to a dryer, which some people don't, hanging them out, hanging them outside in, in the heat. and then obviously, if you do get a tick detaching that tick with a simple technique of taking tweezers and just pulling them all and saving that tick. I hear too many times, not just from the public, but from me and my colleagues at school, from my family members that have found a tick on me.
What'd you do with it? I flushed it down the toilet. I'm like, that doesn't help the doctor if you're sick, right? If you get sick in a week, you're I'd rather you show up, and I'm not a physician, but I'd show up with a tick in a plastic bag and go, Hey doc, I got bit by this and now I'm feeling this way.
That helps that doctor diagnose, it gives you that evidence to help the doctor and you talk about what may be making you sick. Take that tick, put it in a bag, throw it in your freezer to kill it, put it in some ethanol or some rubbing alcohol, put it in a container, save it until you're out of the, until you're free, a couple weeks, you're not feeling that bad, okay maybe it's time to to to get rid of that tick.
Or, I know there's a lot of services you can get tick testing services that, that are available across this country that can help you feel, measure that likelihood of disease transmission, that quote unquote risk that you're willing to take Based on your exposure, the tick, how long it's been on, kind of thing.
And I want to add the idea of the tick check after going outside is this idea, is this biology of the transmission of these bacteria, these protozoa, and these viruses is that the majority of them take a certain period of time before transmission occurs. Now, it's not a 36 hours, 24 hours, right?
It goes back to this. That that bell curve at normal distribution, there are, the majority of transmission happens in this big hump. There's extremes. Again it's, science is not black and white. It is gray as anything. It's all shades of gray. 50 shades of gray, if I want to make a pun there.
But you have to realize that the longer the tick is attacked, the more likely disease transmission has occurred. So the quicker you get it off. The less likely disease transmission has occurred. Not yes or no, it's more or less. So get it off as quick as possible, that's why we do the tick check.
Mary: Yeah, no, I think the saving of the tick, having a picture of the tick and just, having the baggie putting in the freezer if needed is huge. And I think if more people knew that step, just keep it. It would also, they could alleviate, it could give you knowledge. And like we talked before, at the end, knowledge.
It does have a germ, it doesn't have a germ. They can determine generally how long the tick was attached, which is which can be, very important. But, and what type of tick. I think there's such a, we talk about the myths of ticks. One is that every tick has Lyme disease or carries, all types of ticks have Lyme, carry Lyme disease germ.
Brian: And that's certainly not true there are species that, that don't. And, in the lab we've tried we my, colleagues, scientists, have tried to give them the disease and they just don't take it. Or again, I'm not talking in black and white, talking in gray.
The, 99. 999 percent of them will never acquire the bacteria and never be able to transmit it. There are some species where you're at higher risk for certain exposures than others, certainly.
Mary: Now what oh wait, I just lost my train of thought there. What was I going to say? Okay, I'll go back to it. So I guess, so if, so in your, because we love having different experts just different tips, because I think the more people, for some people, One expert's, oh that tip resonates for another, so even if it's similar information, it always helps to get it just from different voices.
So when, so you spot a tick on you, so say, and I think we talked last time, like you've, you're in your family, you've gotten a phone call, there's a tick. What is your first, what do you say?
Brian: Example, and that's the example from my brother in law who called, had a tick on his bicep, And he had to put his phone up, and I had to literally coach him through removing this tick. But just in May, my, my wife calls me upstairs in a panicked frenzy, and I'm like, what is, what's wrong?
What kid fell? Who's bleeding? And she's I'm like, is this an emergency? She's and she goes, I've got a tick on me. I said that's not an emergency. Me being me I've been in, I've been in true emergencies as a paramedic, right? Where there's life and death online.
And when my wife has a tick, a black-legged tick that had been attached for maybe 30 minutes, I go, that's very low on the level of emergency for me. Now, my wife is freaking out, as most people would, right? It is a scary thing. I've gotten ticks off my, my, my children. My, and most parents would be like I imagine most parents would freak out.
I, I am just, okay, let me, tweezers, take them off, right? Because that's what I do. And that's this It's this, and we've talked about this familiarity of a risk and how you perceive what we call, and we can go into it, right? When we think about, when we think about risk, humans are really interesting.
The way we perceive risk is very unique. And you can give basic examples of people that, and I'll give the example because I grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I was an oceanfront lifeguard. I surfed my whole life. And I've never been afraid of sharks in the water. Despite seeing sharks swimming around me, we were down in the Outer Banks over the summer and someone had pulled in a four foot sand tiger shark and I told my six year old son, you should go up and touch it.
And he I should, I wish I had the picture. He was like, I want to do it. But as soon as he went up and, and I had him holding the nose up he's terrified because he's never seen a shark before. And I'm like this is normal. I've seen these all the time, right? I've never been bitten by a shark.
I they've swam next to me. But people that visit, and again, I was at a shark lifeguard, they've got other sharks out there, and they're like, yeah, and they're like, oh my gosh, this is so scary. I'm like not really. The chance of you getting eaten by a shark is very low.
I don't know the number, but it's it's probably one in a in a million at least, or even further down. But yet it's a real risk that people perceive. And there's a famous, a risk a scientist a risk assessment scientist Peter Sandman, and he came up with this equation of how human, it's a very simple equation, like my Lyme disease equation.
It's a very simple equation of how we measure risk. So you have risk on one end, right? Risk equals some factors. And that is the hazard, the true likelihood of something happening, 1 in a million, 1 in 10, 000, 1 in that's truth, right? That is statisticks you can calculate that, plus outrage. Now outrage is very different, that is more of an emotion or a feeling for humans, and that's very hard to calculate, right?
Because we all have different levels of outrage, and outrage is influenced by a lot of different things. And just for example, things like something being foreign or not foreign, going back to that shark example. I grew up around sharks in the ocean, I grew up in the ocean, not a foreign thing to me, not scared.
But somebody maybe from the middle of America comes in, and they've seen jaws, and they've seen these things, and it's more terrifying. So while the hazard, the one in one million doesn't change, the outrage changes up or down, and that equals our perception of risk. And that's, and I say it with the example of sharks, we can use firearms, you can use driving cars, you can use commercial airplanes, hang gliding, all these things, right?
You can make those measures. Tick borne disease, same thing, right? You can use that equation to understand hazard we can measure. One in three ticks is carrying disease. This is the likelihood you're going to encounter that tick. Can we change that? Yes, we try to change the infection rates and ticks. We try to change that risk.
That's something we're trying to do. Trying to change that exposure, that hazard. But we also have to understand the outrage side of the equation. What makes people afraid or not afraid? Knowledge makes people less afraid of things. So when I go out and I usually give talks and people are like, man, I'm like itching and I'm so scared, these are scary things.
And being scared is the first step, right? Being scared of something's the first step. And then transitioning to knowledge and becoming familiar with that concept. And the example I give is, I have a couple examples, but I'll give a personal example. When I started tick borne disease research down in Florida with Dr.
Kerry Clark, I remember I was working in the lab and like most people, I, I didn't get bit by a lot of ticks. I hadn't had experience with a lot of ticks. I lived in the ocean front. We still had ticks, but it wasn't like, I remembered one or two ticks my whole life, and it always terrified me, right?
When I found a tick on me, my parents always had to take it off. But Carrie and I went out to a, we had a student walk into our office one day and she had a bullseye rash. Lucky for her, right? had a bullseye rash. And we said you need to go get tested. She got tested. She got her doxycycline. She was fine.
We said, where did you get that? She's we were out at the state forest in the panhandle of Florida. And we were like, Carrie and I were like, okay, let's go out camping. Like we're outdoors guys. So we went out camping. And we were, we went out and we went out passively collecting for ticks. So we're just hiking, looking for ticks.
And I remember coming across a male black legged tick on my leg and I just stopped and I was like, Carrie, there's a tick on And it was crawling up my leg and I was wearing light colored
Mary: And it's crawling on pants. It's not attached.
Brian: no, it's not. But and the male black legged tick's not going to bite me.
They don't bite. So I'm calling Carrie over and he runs over and he grabs it with his hand. I'm like, Oh my gosh, what did you just do? You just picked up a tick. And I was just so naive to the process, now it's I'm just, now I'm flipped on the other edge of things because I've become so educated on these things that they don't terrify me, excuse me, they don't surprise me, and I'm very comfortable around them.
So that's, and so my perception of risk is very different. It's driven not by outrage, it's driven by the true hazard. So that's where I think we need to target hazard obviously through science, but we also need to think about humans and the way we perceive our outrage or influence by feelings about a certain and so scaring and then educating and giving people knowledge.
makes them more comfortable in understanding true risk.
Mary: Okay, yeah, no, I think that's, again, it all comes back to education, and I think, too, there's, we can wrap up, but one of the biggest things that we come across with ticks and we, on our social media and other things, are the myths, just and I, do you, and I didn't prep you for this one, but do you have what are your, what are the top myths that you like to debunk?
Brian: a great example, and this is a personal example. I have to have been, when I was in my postdoc, I started my position here, so I've been studying ticks for ten, a decade, or maybe a little less than a decade. I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the topic at that point in time. And my mom called me, and she told me how ticks jumped out of trees.
And I said, mom, I said, they do not jump out of trees. And she argued me, she said, no, she, my mom works for a dentist and the dentist told her the ticks jumped out of trees. I said, mom, your son's an expert on ticks, and I promise you they do not jump out of trees. I had to convince my own mother that to trust me and that, that's why do you wear a hat then?
I'm like you wear a hat. And so the ticks don't walk all the way up and get, under your hairline, as they've climbed your whole body when they attach from on your lower appendages. So ticks don't fly. Ticks don't jump like fleas. They're very, they're creatures that don't move very much.
And they don't, and they don't because think about this. A tick, on average, feeds twice in their whole life. So at the larval stage, the baby and the nymph, the adult females take a blood meal and then die, they lay eggs and die. So think about this, think about if you had a lawnmower and you could only fill it up twice.
You'd be very, you'd be very thoughtful about when you mow your lawn, right? So I think about that. Mosquitoes bite all the time, fleas can take multiple blood meals. Ticks are not that way, so they have to really conserve that finite amount of energy they have, or they just shrivel up and die.
So ticks do not jump, they do not fly, they crawl very little. I guess the other myths I'm trying to think of some of the other myths that I get. The ticks flying and jumping is a big one don't even know. That's the biggest one. Do you
Mary: yeah, that's quite, the other one that we probably get most, cause it definitely, cause even, we're talking to some, like the falling out of a tree, they're like, that's just, how long would it take for a tick to even crawl up a tree to then come down and then even
Brian: dry out,
Mary: how are they going to land on you,
Brian: And they would dry out. And they're not like parachuting in like paratroopers, right? It's a very bad strategy if I was a tick to to fall out of treats.
Mary: And then the, I guess the other myths that we hear most about are just how to remove.
Brian: Oh yeah, you get, yeah, you get the I, I hear all the stories about these different tools or, putting petroleum jelly or, salt. I don't know like all these types of things And realistically, and I've removed that tens of thousands of ticks from different types of animals, all different types of animals from small little voles up to raccoons and deer and humans, and I would consider myself somewhat of an expert on removing of ticks, and it literally is these and I probably have some here, it's those fine tooth tweezers that you just grab the base and pull out, and they are, they work, they're phenomenal.
Now You have to remember that I have a steady hand when I'm doing this, and somebody that's scared may be, be a little more shaky it takes calming down, breathing in and out to do that, and it goes back to my example of my brother in law his phone in his shaky bicep, and and then the mouth parts, right?
Oh, did I get the mouth parts?
Mary: Because that's the one thing with, you have, if you don't get the mouth, because, explain that. So you, do you need to mouth part out?
Brian: Yeah so this is, so the tick has two, two body parts, right? They have the abdomen and the head, just like a spider does, right? Insects have three segments, ticks have two segments. And the head is, it consists of this I'm trying to see, I probably have a good picture on here, do I?
Yes, I do. So I got a thank you card from my students. And they put this cool tick on there. So they have two spotty parts, right? They have this body, they have this body part here, the abdomen that fills with blood. This is the female black legged tick and then the mouth parts right here. And they have a little like it's called the basis capituli right here.
It's a little, it's a, there's a little connection right here. And sometimes you can grip here. And pull that connection right here apart, and you'll get these mouth parts. Because these mouth parts have barbed teeth, like a fishing hook, they stick into you. The tick also releases a cement to help stay stuck in.
People are like what do I do? And it's don't start digging into it with a needle or anything like that, right? You're likely fine. Once you remove this the ticks going to die, the mouthparts are going to be like a splinter that your body will eventually push out.
People are always worried about it's still going to transmit disease. And it's if it was on long enough to transmit disease, then the, remove the mouthparts being left in are not going to increase that risk anymore. So some disease, some diseases, some of the viral disease are transmitted very quickly within 15 minutes.
So having the mouthparts in. It's not going to change anything unless you've got them within the first two minutes, right? So I would say don't focus so much on that. Put some, put some anti bacterial ointment on there, cover with a band aid. I like to give this tip, people are, people, oh the myths, more myths, right?
The rash. This idea of a bullseye rash. It wasn't a bullseye rash. I'm like it's actually not always a bullseye rash. Sometimes, a lot of times, people don't recognize a rash, realize a rash, they don't see central clearing like the target sign, right? It could be a, just a red rash, it could be a purple rash.
So I tell people, the rash itself is not bullseye, it is expanding red is what that rash's name is. Erythema migrans, an expanding red rash. It doesn't matter if it's bullseye. So what I tell people, because a lot of people will have just an irritated area after a tick bite. Take a sharpie marker and just draw, trace the outline of that red ring, and if you wake up the next morning and that red ring is bigger than sharpie marker, that's an expanding red rash. You need to go see a
Mary: That's a great tip
Brian: don't need that central clearing to to be diagnosed with an erythema migrans after a tick bite.
Mary: Yeah, I think, I, yeah, I think the bullseye ends up, it's probably also one that's become almost a disservice because people say I didn't get, I never got the bullseye so that tick probably wasn't infected.
Brian: And you, some people get rashes in areas that are not where the bite was, right? Erythema chronica migrans, it was a it's a very common feature in Europe but you can get spotty rashes away from the bite area. So it's, so you have to remember it's this expanding red rash, not this bullseye rash. So that's a good education point to change people thinking about. about what that sign is for likelihood of Lyme
Mary: Cause then that, like that, cause the bullseye falls into that. So it's more
Brian: it certainly
Mary: would be one of that type. Yeah, that's very good. That's a great tip. Thank you so much. It's really, we'd love, Learning more and more about ticks and like you say the more we know about them and we're aware of them We don't have to be scared of them But protect yourself with other repellents and do your tick checks and just be alert and know what's going on Know your freckles thank you so much Brian for your time,
Brian: Yes, Mary, thanks a lot.
Mary: thank you