We’re now in the thick of tick season, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning people that ticks can actually be smaller than you realize.
In a new Facebook post, the CDC makes it clear that ticks can be as small as a poppy seed. The government organization illustrated their point by showing a poppy seed muffin with actual ticks on it. “There are 5 ticks in this photo. Can you spot them? Learn how to prevent tick bites and protect yourself,” the caption reads.
People were understandably grossed out with more than 300 horrified comments and 1,400 shares as of today’s date. “My love for lemon poppy seed muffins has suddenly vanished. Thanks CDC,” one person wrote in the comments. “Thank you for ruining lemon poppy muffins,” another said.
YesmoviesSure, the visual is a little gag-worthy but it raises a good point: Different types of ticks come in all shapes and sizes.
How common is it for ticks to be that small?
It’s actually “very common” in the Northeast and Upper Midwest of the U.S., says Jean Tsao, PhD, an associate professor specializing in disease ecology at Michigan State University. These tiny ticks are actually deer ticks in the nymphal (or “teenager”) stage, Tsao says.
How dangerous are these small ticks?
Like their older counterparts, nymphal deer ticks can still carry and pass on diseases, including Lyme disease, Tsao says. But Tsao says they’re actually “more dangerous” than bigger ticks for a few reasons.
For starters, they’re harder to see, so you could have a nymphal tick on you and not realize it. And while nymphal ticks are less likely to carry Lyme disease than larger ticks (up to 25 percent of nymphal ticks can carry the disease compared to up to 60 percent of adult ticks, Tsao says), it’s more likely that they’ll hang on your body for longer — and have more time to transmit disease — than adult ticks given that you probably won’t see them quickly.
How can you spot these little ticks?
If you can, do your best to avoid getting bitten by ticks in the first place, Tsao says. That means using an EPA-approved tick repellent and doing things like tucking your pants into your socks when you’re in tick-infested areas, such as forests or grassy areas. While you’re out, “generally glance over your body and check for ticks,” Tsao says.
Once you get indoors, try to bathe, shower, or undress fully within two hours of being in a ticky area, Tsao says. Then, inspect your body all over and rope in a loved one to help, if you can.
How to remove small ticks?
The method is still the same that you’d use for larger ticks. That means grabbing the tick firmly with fine-tipped tweezers and pulling straight up and out, Tsao says. (If you’re not sure what to look for, these tick bite pictures can show you.)
Once the tick is off of you, put it in a baggie and save it (you can place the baggie in the freezer to kill the tick if it’s freaking you out). “It can be used for IDing to rule in and out pathogens should you start feeling sick,” Tsao says. And if you start to feel sick, call your doctor ASAP. They should be able to take things from there.