As the warmer weather approaches and summer sets in, those of us who live in rural areas or enjoy hiking and walking are bound to start encountering ticks. Though they hibernate for the winter, summer is tick season, and the little insects are usually out in force. Ticks exist in almost every country in Europe, and in every state in the U.S. Not all of them bite humans, but those that do can potentially transmit some serious diseases, such as Lyme disease, bartonellosis, chlamydia pneumoniae and anaplasmosis. Therefore, heading into summer 2019, it’s best to know as much about them as you can. One major issue many people worry about is ticks infesting the home. It is common for ticks to enter the home via attachment to either humans or animals; they can often hide in the folds of clothing or fur. If this is the case, exactly how long can a tick live without feeding?
First of all, it is important to note that ticks can’t ‘infest’ a home in the same way that bed bugs or cockroaches can. Ticks do not fare well in an indoor environment and can’t reproduce at the same rate as those previously mentioned insects. They are much more suited to an outdoor habitat, so the chances of them running riot in your home are slim to none. Ticks ideally spend most of their lives attached to their hosts, so they don’t have the opportunity to nest indoors. Despite this, it’s important to know just how long they might survive if they do in fact make it into your home, and what you should do if you find evidence of them.
Ticks cannot run, jump or fly, and they cannot fall out of trees onto people’s heads. They latch themselves onto hosts through a process known as questing, which sees them stretch out their hooked front legs while positioned on the very tip of a piece of grass or bark. This gives them maximum opportunity to latch onto passing hosts. Generally, ticks encounter humans at knee level or below, and aren’t usually found much higher than this. As soon as they make contact with their host, they will crawl upwards, seeking a covered, discreet spot to bite and feed. They can also hide in the folds of clothes, which is how they often make their way into households. Dogs and cats can also carry ticks indoors; generally the ticks will feed on the animal first, before dropping off and potentially latching onto a human host.
So how long can a tick live without feeding once it infiltrates a home? It very much depends on the kind of tick. Deer ticks are the species of tick that carry the Lyme bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, making them one of the most dangerous. Fortunately, deer ticks cannot survive very long without adequate hydration. They are one of the few species of ticks that is particularly susceptible to drying out, or desiccation. In the wild, deer ticks can’t quest for long periods of time; as they desiccate, they return to the more humid ground and leaves to re-hydrate. The same goes for indoor environments, where there is no opportunity for this process. Deer ticks can only survive short periods in areas where the moisture content in the atmosphere is over 90%. This means that in a typical household, most ticks would struggle to survive over 24 hours.
Therefore, the only conceivable way a deer tick could survive indoors for longer than a day is if it was in a pile of damp clothes. It is advisable to wash any outdoor clothes on high drying heat, as this will kill live ticks. If you’ve just come in from a hike or walk, or if you work outdoors on a daily basis, be aware that you might be bringing ticks into the home. Wash all your clothes on a 90-degree drying cycle, and check your body all over for any signs of a tick bite. However, don’t worry about ticks infesting your home. It is very hard for them to survive indoors. On top of that, it’s not in their nature to reproduce in large numbers. You must be more vigilant about yourself, not your house.
BCA-clinic, a Lyme disease specialist centre in Augsburg, Germany, has seen first-hand the issues ticks have caused. Thousands of people across Europe and America suffer from Lyme disease, with more coming forward every year. On top of that, misdiagnosis rates for the chronic form of Lyme disease are assumed to be extremely high. Therefore, it’s hard to put a number on just how many cases there are of the disease around the globe. One thing is for sure, though; it all starts with a single tick bite. If you can avoid getting bitten in the first instance, or see a doctor immediately if you start feeling symptoms after a bite, you will almost certainly avoid the worst of Lyme disease. When it comes to this debilitating condition, awareness is one of the best forms of protection.