[Article updated July 5 at 16:20]
It is estimated that between 30-50% of tick bites occur in rural gardens and countryside parks and scientists have been researching ways that people can reduce the risk of bites and in some cases tick-borne diseases such as Lyme.
The new advice comes after the successful trial of initiatives such as The Tick Project, which recruited residents of 24 neighbourhoods in New York state in the US to help determine whether consistent tick control methods would reduce tick numbers and bites.
The first method was ‘The Tick Control System’, a small box that attracts rodents and gives them a low dose of anti-tick pesticide fipronil when they enter, killing ticks on them and stopping the spread of bacteria that causes diseases such as Lyme.
The second method was the use of a fungal spray, made from a fungus that occurs naturally in soil in North America, which has been shown to kill ticks.
However, homeowners and gardeners can follow certain advice to help reduce the risk of ticks further.
Avoid shade and damp
Ticks need shade and water to spread.
- Create open and sunny areas
- Cut back vegetation, remove piles of leaves, seal stone walls and paths
- Place hedges and flower beds away from high-traffic areas
- Let lawns dry out completely between waterings
- Compost or dispose of the cut vegetation
If your home is adjacent to a forest, create a one-metre wide strip with plants spaced on dry mulch (bark) or gravel to provide a buffer and make it more difficult for ticks to enter your garden.
Keep pets and animals clean of ticks
Pets such as dogs and cats can bring adult ticks into gardens, where the ticks can then lay thousands of eggs.
- De-tick pets regularly, either using a brush, comb or repellents
- To deter wild animals such as deer, install a high fence at the perimetre
- Install de-parasite traps in the area to help clear rodents of ticks (such as those used in the US). Residents in New Jersey used these traps over a two-year experiment and reduced the prevalence of ticks, and the infection that causes Lyme, by 90%.
Encourage ticks’ natural predators
Ticks have few natural predators but guinea fowl and chickens have been shown to have a voracious appetite for the creatures
Parasites such as Steinernema carpocapsae or Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, which are completely harmless to humans and pets, can also be introduced. You can mix them with water and scatter them in your garden, keeping the area moist to allow the worms to embed.
Using fungi-based traps such as those introduced in New York, is also effective.
And while some pesticides may be effective against ticks, they also tend to be harmful to pets and children, vegetation and local wildlife.
Ticks spreading across France
Lyme-disease-spreading ticks are currently proliferating across France. An estimated 15% of ticks in the country carry the illness, and there were 50,133 new cases of Lyme disease reported in mainland France in 2019, figures from research programme CiTIQUE show.
CiTIQUE is an initiative founded in 2017 as part of the national plan against Lyme disease.
The majority of cases have so far been recorded in Grand Est, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, Auvergne Rhône-Alpes and Nouvelle Aquitaine, but the insects are spreading.
Between 2017-2019, 28% of people bitten said it had happened in a garden. This rose to 47% between April-May 2020, thought to be as a result of more people staying at home during the Covid lockdown.
Prevention is better than cure. Advice to help avoid tick bites includes:
- Use an anti-tick spray
- Wear long, light-coloured clothing to cover skin and allow you to see ticks if they appear
- Make sure children wear hats, especially if they are playing in grass or have their head near tall bushes and grasses
- When you return from outside, wash your clothes at 60C, or tumble dry them for at least an hour, as ticks do not like dry heat
- Carefully check your skin, especially in folds of skin or private areas, to check there are no ticks
- Check the fur or skin of pets too, as they can become tick ‘hosts’ and bring them indoors
If you do suspect or know you have been bitten, you are advised to:
- Pull the tick ‘head’ off with tweezers, taking care to remove it in one quick movement, without crushing its body or head
- Check the tick bite area of your skin and stay alert to your general health and any symptoms over the next month; tick bites that cause Lyme can often lead to a ‘bull’s eye’ red ring around the bite
- Ask a health professional to remove the tick as soon as possible if you are not able to remove it yourself
- Request preventative antibiotic treatment against Lyme disease within the next 24-48 hours, from your nearest doctor or health professional, to avoid developing the disease long-term