University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Nelson Moyer, PhD
Adjunct Professor of Occupational & Environmental Health
First Published: November 2000
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
The tick season generally occurs during the summer months, but a
warm spring can activate ticks as early as April. Being prepared can
help you prevent possible health risks associated with tick bites.
"Tick-borne diseases have the dubious distinction of being
diseases you can catch while doing the things you like to do
outdoors," says Dr. Nelson Moyer, principal microbiologist at the
University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory. "Campers, hikers, picnickers
and others may unwittingly place themselves at risk for Lyme disease
or other illnesses."
Ticks may carry organisms that can cause one of several rare
diseases, with Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted
Fever being the most common in Iowa. Tick-borne diseases typically
begin with a low-grade fever, headache, malaise, and possibly a rash.
Left untreated, the symptoms may progress to serious and even
Fortunately, not all ticks carry diseases and not all ticks that
carry diseases are found in Iowa. The three most common tick species
in Iowa have different geographical ranges within the state and are
most active at different times of the year. The dog tick (also known
as the wood tick), which can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever,
is found statewide, usually from April through July. The Lone Star
tick, which can transmit ehrlichiosis, inhabits southern counties
along the Missouri border. It is most common in the late summer and
early fall. The deer tick, which can transmit Lyme disease, is found
in northeastern Iowa and in counties bordering the Mississippi River.
The deer tick actually has two distinct seasons: early spring-June
Ticks abound in areas of tall grass and brush. Avoiding these
areas will reduce the probability of exposure to tick-borne diseases.
Other precautions to consider when you're outdoors: wear
light-colored clothing so ticks can be seen easily; wear long pants,
long-sleeved shirts, socks, and a hat in areas of potential tick
activity; and walk in the center of trails to avoid overhanging grass
After potential tick exposure, remove clothing and inspect the
skin carefully for ticks. Also, wash and dry clothing at high
temperatures to kill ticks hiding in seams.
Follow these steps for removing ticks:
- Use forceps or tweezers, not your fingers, to remove
- Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, pulling back
gently but firmly. Try not to crush the tick's body.
- Place the tick into a small jar for possible submission to a
laboratory for identification.
- Wash the affected area with soap and water.
- Consult your doctor if a pustule or rash develops at the site
of the bite after several days.