In this article, Jerry Simons offers a comprehensive list and explanation of precautions you and your family can take to prevent bug bites that have the potential to cause serious illness.
“Tickborne diseases are totally preventable! One bite can make you sick and change your life!”
– Thomas Mayer, tickencounter.org
“Ticks are abundant and annoying.”
– Pehr Kalm (Swede traveling in the US 1748-1750)
- Prevention is Vital!
Since many ticks are so small, you may never know you have had a tick bite, or not realize it until the tick is engorged!
- May through July are the highest risk months due to intense nymphal activity
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you “take preventive measures against ticks year-round.” Although most tick bites occur in late spring and summer, there is a potential for tick exposure throughout the year.
- Taking two or three 400mg capsules of astragalus daily may help prevent transmission of Lyme – a good idea if you know you will be in a tick endemic area!
- Many have said that ticks can “sense garlic.” Consider loading up on odor-free oral garlic supplements 3 days before an outdoor activity.
- Use a Two-Layered Approach
- Put protectant on your skin as well as your clothing.
- Essential oils like lavender, geranium and rosemary on the skin PLUSpermethrin – an insecticide that mimics chrysanthemum’s natural insect-repelling qualities – on clothing are amazing at warding off ticks and killing any that come in contact with your clothing.
- You can purchase repellent-impregnated clothing (available at REI and L. Bean) or treat your own clothes monthly.
- Ticks seem to be developinga resistance to DEET – oil of lemon eucalyptus is an excellent alternative.
- Treat Your Feet!
That is often where ticks first come into contact with you! Treat your shoes and socks.
- Use Lavender
Ticks hate the scent of lavender: use lavender soaps, detergents, dryer sheets, shampoo,etc. Put dryer sheets in kids pockets.
- Eliminate Standing Water!
Mosquitos will thrive in your yard or balcony, even in a bottle cap sized collection of water. Eliminate all standing water, especially bird baths!
- Keep Tick Carriers Off Your Property
Mice transmit the most ticks that make people sick! Eliminating mice greatly reduces the amount of Lyme transmission. Eradicating mice from your property is essential in eliminating disease-carrying ticks!
Eliminate mouse havens from your home and property by removing:
- Wood piles
- Rock walls
- Leaf piles
Prevent deer from entering your property with tall fences.
Do not attract birds to your yard – birds can easily carry ticks. This is why Central Park has so many ticks! Eliminate bird baths and bird feeders.
- Build a Tick-Proof Barricade
Ticks will rarely cross a 3-foot tall wood chip border – use liberally around your property.
- Avoid Tick-Friendly Spots
Be smart! Avoid ticks-rich environments:
- Stay out of tall grasses
- Stay in the center of paths
- Avoid shady areas under trees
- Ticks love moisture – under a tree, or after a rainstorm – avoid these situations when possible!
- If you need to go into a risky area…
Check yourself frequently while still outside and immediately when you get home:
- Ticks can be as small as the period at the end of this sentence to a sesame seed size adult tick. Ticks that have fed can become as large an eraser head.
- Carry a lint roller with you to roll over clothing and pick up small ticks.
- Shower as soon as you get home and do another tick check.
- Remember, some tick infections can be transmitted in 15 minutes, so never wait to remove a tick!
- See below for tick removal instructions.
If You Do Get a Rash…
…photograph it daily. Use a ruler on the skin to document size. See below for more details.
Amixture of the insecticide chemical permethrin and potassium saltis a natural and safe way to reduce the presence of ticks. You can find it as a liquid concentrate and as granules at many home improvement stores.
How to use natural pesticides:
- If liquid insecticides are used, apply by fogging, not by coarse sprays.
- Apply in a few-feet-wide strip at the perimeter of your lawn, and in any areas adjacent to woods and underbrush.
- Treat any ornamental shrubs near the house that may house small animals.
- The best time to apply these products is in late spring; I recommend you use them monthly around the border of your home.
- In particularly tick-endemic areas (Northeast, Wisconsin, etc.),more frequent treatments of permethrin are required to significantly reduce the tick population.
Consider treating your propertyin the spring with a product called “Damminix,” cardboard tubes containing cotton balls that have been dipped in insecticide.
How to use:
- Place these tubes around your property in wooded areas and below shrubs.
- Mice, a key link in the propagation of Lyme disease, find the cotton and bring it back to their burrows use it as nesting material, precipitatinga big decrease in the number of ticks in your yard.
- Unfortunately, after two years, tick populations may rise again as other small animals that do not gather cotton become hosts to the ticks. Therefore, Damminix alone is not recommended; supplement with cedar oil or lavender oil drops or sprays and additional precautions listed above.
INSIDE YOUR HOME
If you’re finding ticks regularly, keep a sticky tape-type lint roller handy to pick up unattached ticks from clothing or pets. Use any type of sticky tape to cleanly capture ticks in your home.
- Wearlong pants.
- Tuck the cuffs into your socks so any ticks on your shoes or socks will crawl on the outside of your pants and be less likely to bite.
- Consider using ‘duct tape’ sticky side out to capture ticks crawling on you.
- Wear light colored clothing so ticks are easier to spot.
- Opt for smooth materials such as windbreakers over knit fabrics; smooth clothing is harder for ticks to grab onto.
- Avoid wearing flip-flops or sandals in grassy
Treating Your Clothes with Permethrin:
Tick repellents containing “permethrin” are meant to be sprayed on your clothing. In areas where ticks are strongly endemic, this step is critical to really reduce your risk!
- Spray clothes before you put them on, and let them dry first.
- Do not apply this chemical directly to your skin.
- One application is usually good for 6-10 washings; apply monthly to clothing and shoes.
Ticks cannot tolerate being dried out. After being outdoors in an infested area, place your clothes in the dryer for at least 10 minutes to kill any ticks, then wash them as you normally would (with lavender soap and dryer sheets!). While your clothing is initially in the dryer, take a shower to wash off any unattached ticks and do a tick check: check all over your body, including groin, head and underarms, and have someone check your scalp.A lint roller works great to pick up small and hard-to-spot ticks.
- Oil-based agents are safe for use on skin.
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus is very effective.
- Great natural sprays include:
- Apply liberally and often.
On a budget? It’s easy to make your own repellent:
Easy Citrus Insect Repellent for Skin
- Boil 2 whole lime & lemon peels in 4oz of water.
- Let it cool.
- Mist onto the skin with a spray pump bottle.
- Needs to be applied regularly, every 3-4 hours.
- Adding ice makes it refreshing on a hot day!
Easy Essential Oil Insect Repellent for Skin
Mix 25 drops of three of the following essential oils with a carrier oil like almond oil to create a natural repellant: rosemary, geranium, basil, cedar, cinnamon, lemon, lavender, and pennyroyal. Apply directly to skin.
To DEET or not to DEET?
Many people are, understandably, concerned about using DEET – a common insect repellent – due to its toxic reputation. The Environmental Working Group and a recent study performed at the University of New Mexico still support the efficacy of DEET as one of the most effective insect repellents; I believe insect repellents containing DEET are somewhat effective when applied to the arms, legs, and around the neck; I also believe many ticks are becoming resistant to it. In addition to DEET, there are many naturally based repellents, especially useful for children, as noted above.
My bottom line regarding DEET: For someone who is frequently exposed to ticks or frequently spends time in tick-endemic areas, the level of protection from an occasional exposure to a chemical in a high-risk environment outweighs the thousands of dollars of bloodwork and other potential long-term consequences of a tick bite.
If you do use DEET or other insect repellents:
- Do not use any repellent over wide areas of the body as they can be absorbed, causing toxicity.
- Do not use a product that contains more than 30% DEET. The concentration of a bug repellent is related only to how long the protection will last, not how effective it is at keeping bugs off your skin.
IF YOU DO FIND A TICK…
HOW TO REMOVE AN ATTACHED TICK
All tick bites are potentially dangerous, even with short attachment times.
- Commercial tick removal “spoons” are safe and effective (Tick Twister, Ticked Off, Tick Key)
- Do NOT use your fingers to remove a tick. Buy a pair of fine-tipped tweezers in advance; keep one in the car, home, pocket, etc. If using tweezers to remove a tick, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull straight out. Apply an antiseptic. Do not try to irritate them with heat or chemicals, or grasp them by the body, as this may cause the tick to become irritated and inject more germsinto your skin.
- Save the tick. By saving the actual tick and sending it to a tick-testing lab (we are currently recommending tickcheck.com), the species can be identified and the specimen can be tested to accurately determine what kind of infections it may have transmitted to you. For instance, a Lone Star Tick tends to carry Ehrlichia and Alpha-Gal, two Lyme coinfections. The Deer Tick tends to carry Lyme Disease, while the American Dog Tick tends to carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
Tape the tick to a card and record the date and location of the bite and where you were when bitten, then call your physician. Remember, the sooner the tick is removed, the less likely you are to get ill.
Photograph and measure any rashes. Trace rashes with wax paper to keep track of the size.
If the tick is embedded, have a medical professional remove the tick with a small shave or punch biopsy. This is the ideal way to remove the entire tick, any regional germs in the skin and prevent long term itch and irritation at the site.
A NOTE ABOUT PETS
Speak to your vet for advice on the most up-to-date prevention measures. Often multiple layers of protection are required.
Dogs are especially attractive targets for ticks and are very susceptible to tick bites and tick-borne diseases (TBDs). Vaccines are not available for all of the TBDs dogs can get, and they don’t keep the dogs from bringing ticks into your home. It’s therefore important to use a tick preventive product on your dog. And do not let them in your bed!
Tick bites on dogs may be hard to detect. Signs of tick-borne disease may not appear for 21 days or longer after a tick bite, so watch your dog closely for changes in behavior or appetite if you suspect your pet has been bitten by a tick. Check your pets for ticks daily, especially after they spend time outdoors. If you find a tick on your dog, remove it right away. Ask your veterinarian to conduct a tick check at each exam.
Kill Ticks on Dogs
A pesticide product that kills ticks is known as an acaricide. Acaricides that can be used on dogs include dusts, impregnated collars, sprays, or topical treatments. Some acaricides kill the tick on contact. Others may be absorbed into the bloodstream of a dog and kill ticks that attach and feed.
Using an acaricide can help to reduce the number of ticks in the environment and prevent TBDs. Remember that, in dogs, tick bites can cause a painful wound and may become infected.
When bitten, a dog may become infected with a number of diseases. This depends on the type of tick, which diseases it is carrying (if any), and how quickly a product kills the feeding tick. Examples of topically-applied products include Fipronil, permethrin and Amitraz.
Note: Cats are extremely sensitive to a variety of chemicals. Do not apply any insect acaricides or repellents to your cats without first consulting your veterinarian.
Do not let a fear of ticks ruin your summer! Use common sense: avoid tick areas, use repellent, check for ticks oftenand have your yard sprayed.
Could a vaccine be the ultimate in prevention? It would be difficult, as a vaccine would need to cover all 13 strains of Lyme, multiple viruses, Babesia parasites, and other bacterial infections to be totally protective.
Products mentioned are intended as examples only; no product endorsement is suggested or implied.
This list is not all-inclusive. Contact your medical provider or vet for up-to-date tips that work best for you.
If you have ever read the New York Times Science Section, Redbook Magazine, Experience Life Magazine, Shape or The Lyme Times, then there is a chance that you have read an interview of Jerry Simons. Jerry has received the March of Dimes Health Career Award, the Kirklin Award for Excellence in Surgical Skills as a PAand was the 2008 NY State Society of PAs -Educator of the Year. In 2008 he was given the National PA leadership award from the Student PA association.
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