Lyme disease is an infection transmitted by ticks. The risk of Lyme disease is year round but the highest risk window is late spring into early summer. Over 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease are estimated to occur every year in the United States. That makes Lyme disease the most frequent tick-borne infection in North America. The ticks that transmit Lyme disease, deer ticks, are very small and difficult to see. They’re about the size of a pinhead when they come out in late spring and early summer.
Here are five tips to help you prevent tick bites and getting Lyme disease.
1) Create a tick-free zone around your house
- Keep your lawn well manicured
- Create a tick barrier between your lawn and taller grasses or brush
- Eliminate mouse habitats
- Add a deer fence to protect your garden
The first principle in creating a tick-free zone is to have an inner area that is well-manicured. Lawns that are well mown and grass that is well sheared will keep the tick habitat away from your home. Separate this tick-free habitat from the woods with a tick barrier, a several-foot-wide strip of wood chips or bark that separates your well-manicured yard and lawn from the perimeter brush around the edge of your yard.
Ticks get Lyme disease from mice, and so it’s important to eliminate the mouse habitats around your yard. This includes eliminating wood piles and rock piles where the mice tend to live and breed. Gardeners may also try to keep deer out of their tick-free zone with an eight-foot deer fence. This can be installed by professionals or by yourself.
2) Enjoy the outdoors safely
- Avoid exposure in wooded, overgrown areas.
- Stay on marked trails when hiking.
- Stay out of tall grass & un-cleared areas of the forest floor.
Going for a walk or a hike? Stay in the middle of the paths, away from the high grass and brush that may be on the edges of your hiking trail. Avoid going into the tall grass and brush if you can. Sports and athletic fields with well-groomed sunny grass areas are safer. However, make sure to stay out of the brush and tall grass at the edges of the fields when possible.
3) Protect yourself, your children, and your pets by wearing protective clothing treated with tick pesticides and treating your skin with insect repellent
- Wear protective Clothing.
- Long sleeves, long pants tucked into socks, & shoes.
- Avoid going barefoot or wearing open-toe sandals/shoes.
- Use insect repellent such as DEET on the body or Permethrin on clothes.
- Review safety information; assess the risks/benefits of these products.
- Many doctors consider them unsafe for use on children. Use discretion and consult your doctor before using. Do not use on children under 3.
Lightweight long pants and long shirts are great for hiking as they prevent ticks from getting on your skin. Permethrin is a commonly-used tick pesticide that’s applied to clothing, not to your skin. Permethrin is a unique chemical because it does not need to be reapplied frequently. It stays bound to the material of your clothing and needs only to be reapplied every few months.
In addition to treating your clothing with permethrin, you can also use an insect repellant on your skin to repel ticks. Deet is a commonly-used tick repellent that can be applied to the skin safely in adults and children. It must be applied every two to three hours in warm weather. Apply by spraying on to the exposed surface of the skin and allowing it to dry in place.
When you’re done enjoying the out of doors, it’s a good protective habit to shower immediately. This may wash off ticks that have gotten onto you. Wash and dry your clothes immediately.
Choosing an Insect Repellent
To make the most informed risk reduction and health protection decision, look for EPA-registered products that give protection-time information on the label. Make sure the product label tells you:
- Insects it protects against
- Length of time it provides protection
- Names and percentages of active ingredients in the product
Protection times on product labels are based upon information submitted to EPA by manufacturers using approved testing methodology. Look for an EPA registration # on the insect label.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the use of products registered by EPA. This number means the company provided EPA with technical information on the effectiveness of the product against mosquitoes and/or ticks.
For protection over an extended period, use a product with a protection time that fits your level and duration of activity. The length of time you are protected can vary depending on:
- Physical activity/perspiration
- Water exposure
- Air temperature
- Application according to label directions
Re-apply repellent according to label instructions
The label is your guide to using these products safely and effectively.
Considering all of this information will lead to informed decision the on the product that’s right for you.
Protecting Your Children
It’s very important to use protective measures for your children as well. Any kind of pesticides or repellents should be used with caution, and it’s important to discuss the use of these with your pediatrician before using them.
Protecting Your Pets
It’s also important to protect your pets from Lyme disease. It’s important to consult with your veterinarian about approved products for tick repellents for your pets as well.
4) Perform tick checks after coming in from the out of doors and showering
- The risk of getting Lyme disease is greater the longer a tick is attached. Therefore, doing tick checks is important so they can be removed before they transmit Lyme disease.
- Shower daily.
- Common sites of attachment: behind knees, underarm, scalp, navel, groin, buttocks, back.
The most important thing is to get ticks off of you before they attach and have the chance to transmit Lyme disease.
Tick checks are performed two ways:
- Physical Inspections or feeling for ticks, because ticks are very small, and sometimes aren’t seen. By feeling for ticks, you may discover ticks that are in hidden areas, such as behind your knee or in your armpit, where you wouldn’t be able to easily see them.
- Visual inspections should be done as well, looking for the very small pinpoint-sized dark specks that are the nymph stage ticks present at this time of the year.
You may need help from somebody to look on your back for ticks. Parents should inspect their child’s entire body daily for ticks.
5) Remove ticks once found immediately by grasping them with a tweezer and pulling them off of the skin
The quickest way to remove a tick is with tweezers. Grasp the tick between the head of the tick and the skin and to pull firmly but gently away. Sometimes, this will leave behind small black mouthparts of the tick in the skin. Don’t worry, these small mouthparts do not transmit Lyme disease and should be left alone. Never try to dig out the mouthparts of the tick with any type of needle or blade, just leave them in place and they will work their way out on their own.
The most important point is to remove the tick quickly. Removing a tick in the first 24 hours dramatically reduces the risk of Lyme disease, and is your best protection in preventing yourself from getting Lyme disease.
Using these five tips to prevent Lyme disease can help you enjoy the out of doors safely, help you to avoid tick bites, and help you to avoid getting Lyme disease.
What to Do After A Tick Bite
If you or a loved one is bitten by a tick you’ll want to remove the tick immediately. Dr. Aucott explains what to do after a tick bite.
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