[Public Health Pests] Tick Treatment 101

Features - Public Health

Ticks pose a unique threat among pests, and offering effective tick control to your customers requires a considered approach.

April 30, 2013
Hallie Moreland
An adult female blacklegged tick, engorged after a blood meal. (Photo: Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org.)

The United States has been facing a growing tick epidemic in recent years. Lyme disease is transforming from an endemic issue to a pandemic issue, with the Northeast reporting the greatest number of cases nationally.

During an informative educational presentation at PestWorld 2012, George Williams, general manager and staff entomologist for the Boston-based firm Environmental Health Services (EHS), shared some of the ways his team helps to treat the ever-increasing tick population in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

In 2012, the Rhode Island Lyme Disease Resource Center indicated a 148 percent increase in tick-related complaints; the Massachusetts Department of Health has had between 12,000 and 14,000 lab reports of Lyme disease every year since 2010. Michigan, Indiana and Ohio have shown a dramatic Lyme disease increase over the past five years. Even more troubling, Babesia microti, another vector-borne disease spread by ticks, can result in death in extreme cases, although the vast majority of cases are asymptomatic or produce only mild, flu-like symptoms in humans.

As a result, proper tick management is becoming increasingly important, particularly in those regions of the country where Lyme disease is a growing problem. During the past 20 years, Lyme disease has spread throughout the Northeast and into the Midwest, reaching as far as the West Coast. Not only are humans at risk but pets, especially dogs, are susceptible to contracting the disease. In mid-summer, cases spike, making spring and summer the optimal time for treatment.

Ticks 101.
There are about 200 species of ticks in the United States and about 850 species globally. Soft ticks infest birds and mammals other than humans, while hard ticks are the most important species with regard to human attacks. One thing potential clients may not know is that ticks are not limited to outdoor environments — brown dog ticks, for example, can live their whole lives indoors. These ticks can be harder to treat than bed bugs, as they get into vents, requiring challenging structural treatments.

There are several species of hard ticks, including dog ticks, wood ticks, deer ticks and black-legged ticks. Their salivary glands secrete a glue that keeps the tick in place while feeding. Feeding on a host can last from days to weeks, with the tick taking up to 600 times its body weight in blood. Females die after producing between 3,000 and 6,000 eggs in a mass, meaning that thousands of ticks can be found on a single property. A tick’s life cycle lasts anywhere from three months to two years.

Preparation. Before beginning any treatment, Williams stresses the importance of letting clients know that you will be providing a suppression service, not an elimination service. While it’s possible to reduce the amount of ticks on a property through habitat modification, deer control and exclusion services, even the most thorough technician implementing the most comprehensive pest control program won’t be able to eradicate them. Depending on the property and clients, such options may also end up being the most cost prohibitive.

A tick feeding on a human host. Ticks are an important public health pest because they can transmit Lyme disease and other illness.

The key to tick prevention and suppression is to create a tick-free zone on your customer’s property. Therefore, recommend that they clear tall grass and brush around their home, mow their lawn frequently, stack firewood in a dry location and place a 3-foot wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas and around patios and play equipment.

In addition, all clients should be aware of certain areas on their property that are breeding grounds for ticks. Stone walls between property lines and decorative retaining walls are good places for chipmunks and deer mice, and as a result, a good place for ticks as well. Ticks are not attracted to the sunny, dry or well-manicured areas of a property — they search for foliage to quest, looking for a host to brush into them, where they will move on to small animals in the spring, and larger animals by the summer and fall months.

Before beginning any treatments, Williams suggests that all technicians familiarize themselves with the property they are servicing. For example, technicians should know what is on the other side of a fence when treating. If a client’s neighbors are raising honeybees, you must be careful when and how you make pesticide applications to minimize drift, so as not to endanger bees in a neighboring yard. Technicians also should avoid treating blooming flowers, as treatments performed while flowers are in bloom could endanger honeybees. Be aware that treatment droplets on foliage can potentially act like magnifying glasses in high heat, thus “burning” the flowers. Technicians also should refrain from treating with pyrethroids around koi ponds, as they are toxic to fish.

Treatment Options. There are many treatment product options to consider. A popular conventional treatment often uses synthetic pyrethroids; Williams says you also can use adjuvant, a spreader sticker additive that limits drift. You can offer a conventional treatment program as a monthly service, stretching from spring until the first frost. A more modest service could be performed two times per season, in March or April, and then again in September. If the area has a great deal of wildlife pressure, technicians should suggest a third visit in mid-summer.

An effective organic treatment option, which EHS offers as part of its EcoHealth tick protection program, uses Essentria IC3, a 25(b) exempt product. Organic treatments are most effective if performed monthly, according to Williams. If a client does not opt for the monthly program, however, technicians should always perform treatment three times per year, in spring, mid-summer and fall. In addition, organic treatments are a good option if there is a koi pond on the property, as IC3 has no aquatic toxicity.

An insect growth regulator (IGR) also can be used as part of the mosquito/tick program, but not for ticks alone. If honeybees are in the area, Williams recommends using a lower-impact product. Mavrik Aquaflow is a product EHS has used with success in such situations.

A slightly more expensive option your company can offer is a Select TCS (Tick Control System), a tick reduction tool that can result in up to 95 percent reduction in a tick population after two years. This treatment involves placing tamper-resistant stations at 30-foot intervals throughout the property as decided by the pest management professional. By offering this service, there is also increased revenue and customer retention because it is ideally a two-year program. The target market for this type of treatment would be more affluent homeowners due to the additional expense — the program can increase the cost of service by $1,200 or more per year.

When it comes to applying treatments, Williams’ technicians prefer to use backpack misters, as the majority of their tick services are for residential properties. Solo and Stihl misters are convenient because they allow for a faster service set-up time; a technician can come to a client’s home and be ready to go. These misters also provide adequate application coverage both high and low, and don’t require technicians to drive around in trucks full of insecticide. In addition, clients prefer the look of the backpack mister because it appears as a less-invasive treatment.

Williams suggests having customers set up their treatments via credit card if they are on a monthly program, because individuals are more likely to stay with the program if they’ll have to make a physical effort to cancel it. As for the other programs, Williams advises requiring payment up front. This ensures the client will keep up with subsequent appointments because they’ve already been paid for.

Williams said PestPac users should set up a service schedules to have on- and off-months. They should create two service codes for conventional and organic treatments so that technicians can easily distinguish between the two service orders. These customers should be added to a list so you can accurately track all of the clients that are in the program. This will make marketing, communication and management easier.

Blacklegged ticks on a scale, with a needle shown for scale. While feeding, ticks can take up to 600 times their body weight in blood. (Photo: Jim Occi, BugPics, Bugwood.org.)

It is also essential that you train your service team. Your technical team, service manager and supervisors should take part in classroom training. The product manager also should be included and asked to discuss the company’s product choices.

For field training, Williams recommends that technicians perform an actual start-to-finish treatment. They should learn mixing and application techniques, as well as treatment issues and obstacles they might face so that they can understand how to go through each step while on the job. Make sure your team is trained to understand the intricacies of doing specific services and what may go wrong.

Technicians also should be trained in keeping paperwork organized and up-to-date. You should use a pest vulnerability report to highlight conducive conditions and issues that exist on the property. The paperwork should be neat and organized with accurate treatment details.

Marketing. When it comes to marketing, advertising and communication, you should create a program name and brand it. Trademarked examples from Williams’ company include “EcoHealth” and “Take Back My Yard.” Make sure your office staff has “canned” email overviews of the program so they can share them with their customers and inform them of the services and the products that will be used. This will save phone time and increase sales success. It also offers a clear description of the program with details, and allows various members of the household to share information with one another.

Email blasts also can be sent seasonally to determine which of your customers might be interested in tick services. These emails will save time and will give people the opportunity to contact your company if they’re interested. If your company is going to offer tick services, Williams also suggests having a tick removal tip sheet on your company website — it is important to supply customers with information on how to effectively and properly remove ticks.

Also be sure your website provides support information about ticks, as well as the services being offered. Make sure your field team is on board with the program logistics and prices so that they can sell as needed, based on what they learn about the property. It is also helpful to have downloadable flyers that customers can access and share with others.

In the end, technicians may not be able to eliminate the presence of ticks entirely, but they can help clients regain the comfort ticks take away by providing education and valuable treatment options.

The author is a Cleveland, Ohio-based writer and can be reached at hmoreland@giemedia.com.