Tick, Tick, Tick….A PSA for the Summer

Greetings and Salutations…
A small PSA for the Summer.
For whatever reason,  the flea, mosquito and tick problem  is pretty terrible this year.  The relatively warm winter,  the early warm up to Spring-like temps, and the rains that have swept across the country have ensured they are breeding like gangbusters.   So,   what do we do about this?
Prevention is the cheapest and least complicated way to deal with the problem.  All three pests can be slowed down by taking these actions:
  • Wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts when out in the grass for any lengthy time.  If possible pull your socks up and over the end of the pant legs.
  • make sure to use a good product like Back Woods OFF to spray legs from waist down to feet.
  • Spray your wrists where the shirt sleeves stop (or your entire arm, if you are wearing a short sleeve shirt).
  • Do not forget to treat any OTHER exposed skin (back of the neck,  face,  etc)   I suggest spraying the product on your hands and rubbing it on your face, though.  I am no fan of spraying stuff directly at my face!
  • There are some sporting goods suppliers that sell squeeze bottles of pure DEET…which is GREAT for zapping most bugs that want to feed on you.  But,  read and heed the instructions for application of the stuff as it is pretty strong stuff.

Now, here is a very informative article about Mosquitoes, both discussing their life cycle,  and offering excellent suggestions on controlling them.   (I recommend reading it.)

The steps I suggest above,  and others which are talked about in the various articles I have linked,   should go a long way to eliminating mosquito  and flea bites.
 Ticks,  alas are a different issue entirely.   While the above precautions will go a long way to keeping them off you,  it is not perfect…so you MAY end up being a host.  On the positive side,  most of the time,  ticks will crawl around for a while before biting into your skin.They are looking for a warm, damp,  protected place with plenty of blood vessels close to the surface.  Also,  some ticks are so species specific that they are unlikely to attach to a human…but I would not bet on that to keep ME from being a host.   The tick,  once it gets onto your skin,  and finds a good place will then bite into you,  looking for blood.   One bit of “good” news is that they have to be dug in for about 24 hours before they are likely to transmit any of the several,  nasty diseases they carry.
I recommend that when you come in from a day frolicking in Nature (and in this case, I will include working in the garden,  mowing the lawn,  trimming bushes and trees and such like tasks),   head to the bathroom.  Strip down to skin and spend some time carefully checking out your entire body for ticks.  Remember what I said about where ticks like to hang out?  The human body has several areas that qualify so be sure to check carefully there.   I suggest having a pair of pliers handy for the ones that have not dug in yet.   When you find one crawling around on your skin, grab it with the pliers,  crush it,  and toss its flattened carcase into the trash.  It is a quite satisfying feeling.   If they have already attached,  there are a number of places on the Net with excellent instructions on how to remove them intact, so one does not leave a head attached to the sin.  I either slide a small blade from my pocket knife along the skin,  and carefully scrape the bug off.   I also have,  in my medicine closet,  a defunct credit card  with a triangular notch cut out of a narrow side.   It starts about 1/4″ wide,  and tapers to a point,  after about an inch.   I press that card against my skin,  and slide the notch around the tick.  As I keep pushing,  the notch will capture it,  and lever the jaws out without breaking up the tick.
(I really want to make a snide statement about the current state of politics here…but will restrain myself to keep from moving past the point of simply mentioning the urge…)
Now,  how about fleas?   They are pretty amazing creatures in some ways.  They can jump mind-bogglingly high off the ground,  and it seems like they can create generations every two days.  I know it takes about two WEEKS,  but,  if one gets fleas in the house,  It seems like the volume goes from no fleas to billions of them overnight!   They are a problem that needs dealing with though…as they, too,  carry diseases,  and,  they swarm in such huge numbers that, like vampires,  they can kill companion animals from blood loss.   Here,  by the by, is a good article about fleas…with pretty amazing images….
So…what do we do when the period on the page your are reading starts moving and then springs away and your realize your companion animal(s) have been scratching and grooming almost constantly for the past few days.
I tend to attack both in the short term and the long-term.
  • First off,  I get a bowl filled with a mixture of water and dishwashing detergent.   I put a goodly squeeze from the bottle in and carefully swirl the water to mix the detergent in without creating foam.  Foam is bad!
  • I take the bowl,  and a flea comb, and start working on the first animal I can get my hands on.   I comb the areas where they cannot reach easily (upper neck,  side of face behind and below ears,  and across the top of the head and down the spine to the tail.
  • With each stroke of the comb, I usually get a combination of some hair,  and a bunch of fleas.   I take the loaded comb,  and dip it into the bowl,  then, scrape the flea/hair mix off into the bowl.  The detergent ensures tht the fleas will not float, so, they are goners.   If, by the by, when you are doing this,  the water starts turning red,  that is blood from the animal that the flea has already ingested and deficated.   It shows that it is VERY GOOD to be doing this.  Repeat this step for all companion animals in the house.
  • As quickly as possible,  I get a topical flea treatment for the animal(s),  and treat all of them.
  • Speaking of topical treatments.   There are three that I have had excellent results from.   Revolution,   Advantage II  and a clone of the latter called Advectra.   I have used many of the absorbed inseciticides over the years,  and these are the only ones I have found that do not bother the animals,  do a great job of killing the fleas and ticks on them,  and keeping them parasite free for up to a month.
  • It is also possible to get a flea shampoo from the Vet that works well, but, the joy of that experience depends entirely on how happy your animals are about getting a bath.   I have had a few over the years that were fine with it,  but most of them hate it.    As an alternative,  the “Original formula” Dawn dishwashing detergent works VERY well.   It will not leave any residue that will help keep the fleas from repopulating the animal,  but, it does get rid of the current crop.
Now, then…For a longer term attack.
  • After getting the animal(s) treated and cleaned up a bit…wash every bit of clothing that they have been in contact with.   Hot water and extra detergent.  and an extra rinse is the way I go about it.   This includes bedclothes…
  • If you have a single area where the animal(s) like to hang out a lot,  set up a “Flea Trap” there.  If you have a small, desk lamp, no purchases needed.   make up a detergent bowl as detailed before,  and set it on the floor where there is likely to be a concentration of fleas.  Set the lamp up,  pointing down into the bowl,  with the shade two or three inches above the bowl.   Turn the lamp on and leave it for a few days.   You will likely see a bunch of flea bodies at the bottom of the bowl.  Leave the trap there until the bodies stop accumulating.
  • Get a treatment to spread around the house and kill the fleas in the rugs,  curtains and furniture.   If none of your furniture has cushons or cloth upholstry on it…that makes the job easier.   There are several good products for this.   Talk to your Vet,  look on Amazon,  poke around on Chewy,  and visit your pet supply stores in the area.
  • Get a spray type treatment for furniture, curtains,  mattresses, pillows and the like.  spray everything down with a fine mist that covers the surfaces as evenly as possible.  They do not have to be WET,  but they should be covered.
  •  There is another alternative treatment that works quite well too.   It is called Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth.  It is available from many sources, and is a fine, flour-like powder.   It is non-toxic and works very well for killing off fleas.
  •   I sprinkle it on the carpet,  work it in with a broom,  leave it for a day or so,  then vacuum the rug.   The DE kills the fleas and the vacuuming removes it, the carcasses, and a bunch of live fleas.    One can use it to treat animals too…just sprinkle it on the animal,  and work it into their fur.  Breathing the small amount of dust that is raised by this is not recommended,  but, has not been a problem  for me.   I suspect people with respiratory issues should wear a mask when working with it.  Vacuum often.  if you have a hose type vacuum,  or a hose attachment,  be sure to run slowly along the molding at the base of the walls.   When the bag is full,  take the cleaner outside,  carefully remove the bag,  and dispose of it without taking it back inside.   The bags typically hold the fleas in,  but,  there is a chance that the fleas will escape and re-infest.
  • If you go outside and see fleas on your skin or clothing right outside the door,  there are some spray concentrates that hook to a water hose and will cover several thousand square feet,  killing off the fleas and ticks,  and of ten slowing their return.
The flea reproduction cycle ranges from a few days to a couple of weeks…so any eggs that are not killed by the mentioned treatments  will hatch out with the plan of getting some food and reproudcing before they die.  So…to be safe,  plan to treat the companion animal(s) once a month for three months.    Plan to spray or use DE a couple of times a month for the next three months.  It is a pain to do,  but,  it takes work to beat back Nature at times.
With luck you will never have to deal with these issues…but if you do…hang in there.   In the end,  the fleas will be gone  and by preventative treatment next year,  (Topical Flea treatment when the fleas start hatching out in the early Summer,  or DE treatments, and a yard spray),   they should not come back.
Have a great  Summer.
God Help Us ALL
Bee Man Dave

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