Question. Dear Mike: My parents just purchased a home that has been vacant for several months. Seems like each time they visit, they come away with ticks -mostly on their heads. The house is on a plot with some trees, but it's far from being in the woods! Is it possible that these ticks are inside the house, or could they be jumping off the trees? Is there a safe way to deal with ticks? We would hate to use harsh chemicals, but Lyme disease is not a desirable option either! Thanks for your help - we love your show!
---Dr. Dawn Kriebel; Immaculata University
Answer. Thank you, Dawn-how's Tony Orlando doing these days?
Anyway, yes, ticks could be in the house-especially if the previous owners had dogs. Most cats "catch" ticks before they can latch on while they're grooming themselves (the cats, not the ticks). But dogs don't give themselves a tongue bath every hour. And when an engorged female tick drops off undetected, she can give birth to a huge number of 'babies' who can live a long time-sometimes years-in between meals.
Easiest way to check would be to set carbon dioxide traps. Get a big load of dry ice (handle it carefully, with big thick gloves) and put some in the center of each room, surrounded by big circles of sticky tape. Nearby ticks will head towards the CO2 and get caught on the tape. If the tapes are free of ticks the next day, the house is likely clean.
That leaves the great outdoors. Most ticks climb to the top of tall blades of grass or brush-generally a foot or more off the ground-wait for a red-blooded creature to pass by and then hop on. (So keep your brush cut; it keeps the suckers further away.) But yes, they also climb trees and drop down onto people from low hanging branches. Eeeeuuu! Your folks can defend against this by using the repellent I'll describe in a few minutes.
Question. Do you have thoughts about the ability of garlic repellents to discourage ticks and mosquitoes? If effective, does the garlic repellent cause an odor for a period of time?
----Anita; Philadelphia Suburbs
Answer. I don't think anyone knows for sure. Garlic based sprays, like "Mosquito Barrier" DO keep skeeters away from the sprayed area for two weeks, and might work on ticks. The only way to find out would be to spray a known tick-infested spot, wait a few days and then set some dry ice traps or use a tick drag to see if they've left the area. ('Tick drags' aren't parties where arachnids dress up like Barbara Streisand; they're big sheets of flannel that are dragged through the brush by researchers, who then count the number of ticks on the cloth.) Oh, and the sprays do have a strong garlic scent when you first use them, but the smell dissipates-at least to our noses-within a few hours.
Question. I remember hearing you discuss a product that will get rid of ticks in the yard. (I also remember instructions for making something similar using old carpet, PVC tubing, and a pesticide spray, but that's too much work for me.) Can you please remind us of the name of this product and a phone number or website for ordering it? Thanks very much!
---Mandy Levine; Melrose Park, PA,
Answer. Thank YOU, Mandy-for reminding us to do our yearly "Daminex tick tube" reminder! Many of user roneously call the frighteningly tiny monsters responsible for Lyme disease 'deer ticks', but most of the little bloodsuckers never see a deer. Virtually all, however, spend their early life attached to field mice. Kill the ticks while they're on the mice, and they won't be able to feast on you later.
Damminix tubes are rolls of cardboard that contain cotton balls soaked in permethrin, a pesticide that's deadly to ticks, but very low toxicity to humans. The mice take the cotton balls back to their nests to use as bedding, and the permethrin kills all the ticks in the nest. Sold in sets of 24, the tubes are available at retail outlets in states with a big enough tick problem to warrant the company going through that state's (expensive!) registration process. (Last I checked, there were around two dozen such states.) You can order them directly, get more info or find out your state's status at www.ticktubes.com
Now, I want to make clear that permethrin IS a synthetic pesticide. And no, I haven't gone over to the Dark Side of Gardening. This is the ONLY exception I make to my otherwise 100% organic recommendations. I make this huge exception for three reasons:
Ticks are a serious problem. They carry many extremely nasty diseases in addition to Lyme (I lost a close friend some years back to the lingering effects of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever). And they have proven more difficult to control naturally than almost any other pest on the planet.
Permethrin is a synthetic version of the old botanical insecticide pyrethrum, which comes from chrysanthemum flowers, and it's about a slow toxicity a chemical pesticide as you're likely to find. And very low concentrations are used to kill ticks-without affecting anything else in the environment.
The products people would otherwise use are awful-like the nasty chemical repellant DEET, which doesn't even work well against ticks and is absorbed by your body in large amounts if you're foolish enough to slather it on. OK?
Alright, so here's how to make your own, slightly different, 'traps' : Put on gloves and goggles, spray a permethrin insecticide onto pieces of felt, heavy cloth or old carpet, line the insides of pieces of PVC plumbing pipe with the sprayed material, then place the pipes in brushy areas around your property. The mice will go inside the pipes to hide (they love tight little spaces) and the permethrin will kill their ticks-all without you spraying yourself OR the environment! Heck, you won't even hurt the mice! Whether you use Daminex tubes or make your own 'mouse wipes', space the traps about 10 yards apart on the perimeter of your property, where overgrown, brushy areas begin. Don't waste them on manicured lawns; you won't find ticks there.
Other that having a flock of fowl like guinea hens-the most excellent consumers of ticks-running loose on your property, the safest way to protect your family directly is with permethrin "tick repellent" sprays. Although labeled as 'repellents', the sprays actually kill any bloodsuckers that jump onto you-before they can attach themselves. The sprays I recommend contain a very low-one half of one percent-concentration (that's all you need to kill ticks daid); you spray them on your clothes, not your skin; and one spray lasts for two to six weeks of wearing and clothes washing.You'll find .5% permethrin pump-spray and aerosol products from Coulston, Sawyer and Repel in stores that sell camping and hunting supplies; brand names include "Duranon" and "Permanone". You can order Sawyer products online here . (Warning: A lot of products contain higher concentrations of permethrin and/or other chemicals, including the useless but toxic DEET-so stick with those two brand names or read labels carefully. Don't buy anything with DEET in it!)