Ticks are active year-round in Virginia
As Virginia Master Naturalists, it is important to know that every season is tick season in Virginia, and winter weather doesn’t necessarily determine how bad the spring and summer tick seasons will be. April through September are generally considered prime tick months but May is National Lyme Disease Awareness Month, designated for spreading the word on preventing and identifying this tick-borne illness.
Ticks are a common external parasite that live on mammals and birds, and sometimes reptiles and amphibians. In the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains, there are four species of “hard ticks” that can transmit diseases to humans and animals. According to the National Park Service, the four species are the Black Legged or Deer tick (Ixodes scapularis), Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum), American Dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), and Brown Dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus), with Deer ticks being the predominant species in the area.
The Deer tick is encountered predominately in deciduous forest as well as tall grasslands and shrubs bordering forest edges. As the name suggests, these ticks are often found on deer and are known to drop off in other areas. However, they are not limited to just deer, and they can hitch rides on all kinds of warm-blooded mammals.
Tick bites can be prevented by taking the following measures:
1. Wear protective clothing that covers your skin, such as long pants and sleeves. This can help prevent ticks from latching onto your skin.
2. Use insect repellent containing DEET directly onto your skin (including socks/shoes) to repel ticks. It is recommended to use a product with 20% to 30% DEET.
3. Use products containing Permethrin. Permethrin is an effective insecticide in the pyrethroid family that is commonly used for tick control. It is used in a number of ways to control insects and can be applied to clothing and gear to prevent tick bites. Permethrin is a powerful, rapidly acting insecticide that kills ticks and insects that come in contact with treated clothes. It is typically applied to clothing, not skin, and can remain protective through several washings. Permethrin-treated clothing and gear is also commercially available from several manufacturers such as Insect Shield. According to a study conducted by the University of Rhode Island in 2011, treating shoes and socks with Permethrin can reduce the likelihood of a tick bite by 73.6 times.
4. Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. Walk in the center of trails.
5. After spending time outdoors, check your clothing and body for ticks. Ticks may be carried into your home on clothing, and should be removed as soon as possible.
Ticks are common in Virginia, and it is important to be able to identify the signs of tick bites. According to the Virginia Department of Health, 70-90% of people who contract Lyme Disease develop a circular or oval rash called erythema migrans (EM) at the site of the tick bite. To qualify as EM, the rash must be at least two inches in diameter. However, it is important to note that some tick species can cause local inflammation and redness around the bite that could be mistaken for EM. Other symptoms of tick-borne illnesses include fever/chills, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, joint pain, and rash. If you suspect that you have been bitten by a tick, it is important to monitor your symptoms and seek medical attention if necessary.
It’s important to note that even if you take preventive measures, check yourself for ticks if you spend a lot of time outdoors. Know the risks associated with tick species in our area.
1. Tick Identification Chart – Virginia Department of Health. https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/content/uploads/sites/12/2016/10/Brochure.pdf
4. It’s Tick Season! Tips on Preventing Tick Bites – Virginia Department of Health. https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/blog/2022/06/27/tick-season-preventing-tick-bites
3. Tick Bites: Symptoms, Treatments, Pictures, and Prevention – Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/tick-bites
Photo credits for top photo: https://www.nps.gov/shen/learn/nature/ticks.htm and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhipicephalus
– Rob Beaton, Cohort VIII, April 2023
For a deeper dive into this subject, check out this VMN CE webinar from 2019: Virginia Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases