May is National Lyme Disease Awareness month, so we thought it would be a good time to talk ticks.

Especially with the recent death in Waldo County from a tick-borne illness, Mainers must be extra vigilant this year of the little critters as the weather gets warmer and we do more outside.

We spoke with Megan Porter of the Maine Center for Disease Control about ticks. Porter is their health educator on tick-borne illnesses.

We also spoke with Tick-Man Dan, aka Dan Wolff of Massachusetts. Wolff is the founder and President of TickEase Inc. and invented the TickEase tick removal tool.

Wolff has dedicated himself to tick education to the point he showed up for the interview wearing a tick shirt and showing off his tick tattoos.

Both experts gave us excellent advice regarding ticks, and taught us a little something, too.

The Maine CDC’s theme for 2022 Lyme Disease Awareness Month is “Tick Wise.” Maine residents can be “Tick Wise” by practicing some simple precautions when they go outdoors.

Protective clothing: “The main goal is to reduce the amount of skin that ticks can access,” Porter said. Long sleeves and pants, shoes with closed toes, and pant legs tucked into socks. (An important fashion statement.) Wolff suggested light-colored clothing to make ticks easier to see.

Stay in the middle: When walking in nature, stay in the middle of trails to prevent ticks moving from plants to your clothes or skin. Do not wander off the path like Little Red Riding Hood.

Repellent: Porter said to wear an EPA-approved repellent such as DEET, picaridin, IR 3535, and oil of lemon eucalyptus. Permethrin is a repellant that can be used on clothing as well.

Wolff also praised permethrin and other clothing-based repellent. He said tick biology makes clothing-based repellent particularly effective.

Tick checks: Make sure to perform frequent tick checks after being outdoors, all over the body.

“Deer ticks can be as small as a poppy seed,” Porter said. Those are the nymphal stage ticks.

Wolff showed us some nymphal stage ticks, which are basically in the infant stage of their life development.

These ticks are particularly dangerous because they can be hard to find until they have become embedded, and the longer they are attached the more chance of infection.

Wolff emphasized the importance of the tick check.

“Do your daily tick checks and don’t forget your crevasses,” he said. Wolff suggested a seated position, such as on the toilet, offers the best angles. He even kindly offered a helpful rhyme to remember.

“Here I sit and wonder why I have to check for ticks where the sun don’t shine.”

Tick Man Dan was a fun interview.

Even with all the prevention in the world, however, you can still discover an embedded tick on yourself, a loved one or a pet. What do you do then?

“The most important thing to do is stay calm and remove the tick as quickly as possible,” Porter said. Do not wait for a tick to detach itself. Use a pair of fine-tipped tweezers or a tick spoon to remove the tick. Grasp the tick and pull it upward firmly.

Do not use nail polish or nail polish remover, petroleum jelly, or heat to make the tick detach from the skin, and do not twist.

Wolff explained twisting an embedded tick can leave some of the mouth behind.

Clean the bite with soap and water, and monitor yourself for symptoms for 30 days, and call a health care provider if you start to feel sick.

There are also multiple places to send a tick for analysis as well.

If you are in the market for a tick removal tool, Porter recommends a tool “that will help you to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull or scoop the tick straight out.”

Wolff’s TickEase tool includes both a scoop and fine-tipped tweezers. He suggests the scoop for pets and the tweezers for humans. Some tick scoops cannot remove the very small nymphal ticks, Wolff said.

As for a tick removal kit, which can be added to a first aid kit, Porter said to include a small container to keep the tick in after removal, plus alcohol swabs and antibiotic ointment to clean the tick bite afterward.

More information about TickEase can be found at tickease.com, including how to purchase the tick removal tool and a Tick-Kit, which includes all the basics Porter mentioned plus step-by-step directions (and a small magnifier for those tick checks).

There are also a multitude of other tick removal tools available at local stores and online.

No matter which option you choose, make sure you are prepared and are being “Tick Aware.”

Some quick tick statistics from Porter and the Maine CDC:

Maine CDC reported 1,508 cases of Lyme disease in 2021, as well as more than 1,000 cases of other tick-borne illnesses including anaplasmosis and Powassan virus. These are record high numbers.

Current data regarding tick-borne illnesses can be found at the Maine Tracking Network website: data.mainepublichealth.gov/tracking/home.