Ticks Don’t Come Out in the Wash

Before venturing into tick-infested territory, you used a
topical repellent on exposed skin and outer clothing.
When you returned, you did a body check and threw your
clothes in the wash. But clean clothes may not be tick-
free clothes.

When he found a live lone star tick (Amblyomma
americanum) on the agitator of his washing machine,
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologist John
Carroll decided to find out how tough ticks are. So he
bagged up nymphs from two species -the lone star tick
and the deer tick, (Ixodes scapularis), the creature that
transmits Lyme disease - and put them in the washing
machine.

Carroll used a combination of water temperature settings
and detergent types to wash the ticks. The majority of
lone star ticks survived all the water-detergent
combinations with no obvious side effects. Most of the
deer ticks lived through the cold and warm water settings
as well. But when one type of detergent was used with a
hot water setting, only 25 percent of the deer ticks
survived.

When it came time to dry, all the ticks of both species
died after an hour of tumbling around at high heat. But
when the dryer was set to "no heat," about one-third of
the deer ticks and more than half of the lone star ticks
survived.

Carroll placed the ticks in mesh bags, which kept them
from draining away during the rinse cycle and perhaps
increased their odds for survival. However, ticks might
also survive a sudsy interlude by sheltering in the folds
and crevices of a typical load of laundry. Some tick
species have been observed to survive hours of
submersion in fresh water.

Both adult ticks & nymphs can transmit disease. Carroll’s
research reinforces recommendations by the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to wash and
dry clothes at high temperatures after spending time in
areas known to harbour ticks.

Carroll conducts research at the ARS Animal Parasitic
Diseases Laboratory, Beltsville, Md. ARS is the U.S.
Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research
agency.

                                                                                            November 2007
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