Virginia Tech expert shares tips on how to protect yourself from tick-borne illnesses

Tick season tips

As the weather gets warmer, tick season is upon us.

Virginia Tech medical geography expert Korine Kolivras says one way to protect yourself from tick-borne illnesses is to rethink landscaping choices.

“We found higher rates of Lyme disease in areas with herbaceous cover, such as meadows and grass, as well as the edges or boundaries between herbaceous land cover and forest patches,” Kolivras, a Department of Geography professor said.

Kolivras studies how Lyme cases are associated with certain land cover characteristics and configurations.

“Many neighborhoods, especially in our region, fit this profile and individuals could take steps to reduce our interaction with tick populations,” she said.

“At the broad scale, we may want to rethink how we develop residential neighborhoods in terms of this landscape configuration that mixes herbaceous and forested land,” she said. “For individual risk, though, we need to consider very local characteristics of the areas in which people move around, as well as their individual behavior. Yard modifications can make a difference when it comes to the probability of interaction with ticks.”

Kolivras suggests the following modification tips:

  • Rethink how we create our residential neighborhoods. By reducing the number of small forest patches that are interspersed with patches of herbaceous cover and keeping large, forested areas intact, we can likely reduce Lyme disease risk on a broad scale.
  • Modify individual yard spaces. If we zoom in to the individual spaces in which many of us live, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has specific recommendations such as regular mowing, placing a mulch edge around play areas, and clearing brush at the edge of open spaces. We’re still talking about reducing that forest-herbaceous edge, but now at the very local backyard edge. While deer are not a Lyme disease reservoir or source of the bacterium, they are a food source for ticks, so discouraging deer with fences and vegetation reduction can keep deer, and the ticks that hang out on them, farther from our residential outdoor spaces.
  • Minimize risk by reducing interactions with ticks when outdoors. With respect to human behavior, the CDC and other groups recommend hiking in the center of a trail to minimize the likelihood of brushing against vegetation where ticks could be “questing” or hanging out looking for a host. It’s also recommended to wear long sleeves and pants that are tucked into socks, which can admittedly be difficult on a hot summer hike, and to carefully check for ticks every evening. Insect repellants can further reduce risk.

About the Author:

Lauren Helkowski joined WSLS 10’s digital team in August 2022, but has held a passion for storytelling long before.