Some years back, we reported on what, at the time, seemed like one of the least intelligent and most misdirected tick "management" schemes we could imagine. We commented about reports of doctors advising patients to wear dog or cat flea collars around their ankles and necks to ward off ticks and thereby prevent Lyme disease. The recommendation a year later by a popular horticulture radio program to dust cut Christmas trees with flea and tick powder to control ticks matched the flea- collar-on-the-ankles routine for stupidity but was at least less likely to cause damaging human exposure.
Now comes an enlightening article in the Kansas Insect Newsletter by Extension Entomologist Don Mock reporting on a girls' camping program that issued cattle insecticidal ear tags for the campers to wear on their shoes to keep off chiggers and ticks. For anyone who hasn't been out to the feedlot or cattle pasture lately, insecticidal ear tags are large plastic discs impregnated with organophosphate or pyrethroid insecticide that are attached by piercing the animals' ears. The insecticide is slowly released and rubbed onto the hair as the animal throws its head to scare away the flies.
Don Mock gives an excellent point by point rebuttal to arguments alleging insecticide ear tags can't be that bad for people if they're used on cows. They are. If you would like a copy of the article give me a call.
Wearing ear tags (or pet collars) exposes the wearer to the documented possibility of skin irritation. This is separate from the problems of dermal insecticide absorption that may occur with sustained skin contact and oral or eye exposure that may occur by transfer of insecticide from contaminated shoes and clothing via the hands. On top of this significant risk of insecticide poisoning is the question if one ear tag per shoe will even protect the wearer from ticks and chiggers (only one side of the leg is protected). And finally, this use is, of course, not on the label.
As always, read and follow label directions to avoid this type of illegal and ill-advised activity.
This article originally appeared in the June 23, 1993 issue, p. 98.