By Gerald (“Jerry”) Simons, PA-C
In this article, Jerry Simons offers a comprehensive list and explanation of precautions you and your family can take to prevent tick bites and the transmission of Lyme disease.
“Tickborne diseases are totally preventable! One bite can make you sick and change your life!”
– Thomas Mayer, tickencounter.org
1. Ticks hate the scent of lavender: use soaps, detergents, shampoo,etc. Put dryer sheets in kids pockets.
2. Protect your skin and clothing! BUZZ AWAY EXTREME on the skin and permetherin on the clothing are amazing at warding off ticks and killing any that come in contact with your clothing. You can purchase impregnated clothing or do it yourself monthly.
3. Mice transmit the most ticks that make people sick! Eliminate mouse havens from your home and property.
4. Be smart! Avoid where ticks live: tall grasses, stay in the center of paths, etc.
5. Prevent deer from entering your property with tall fences
6. Ticks will rarely cross a 3 foot wood chip border, use liberally around your property
7. CDC “take preventive measures against ticks year-round.” Tick bites are not a summer problem.
8. 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!
9. Treat your shoes — that is where ticks usually first come in contact with you!
10. May through July are the highest risk months due to intense nymphal activity
Avoid tick-friendly environments: tall grasses, sides of paths, and shady areas under trees. Ticks love tall grass and moisture.
● Remove wood piles, rock walls, and bird feeders as these attract tick-carrying animals and can increase the risk of acquiring Lyme.
● Eliminating mice from your property is essential in eliminating disease carrying ticks!
● Preventing deer from entering your property by erecting tall fences can be an effective prophylactic measure over time.
● A 3-foot wood chip border around your yard helps prevent tick spread.
INSECTICIDES: Treat your property with a product called “Damminix”. This consists of cardboard tubes containing cotton balls that have been dipped in insecticide Place these tubes around your property in the wooded areas and below shrubs.
Mice, which are a key link in the propagation of Lyme disease, find the cotton and bring it back to their burrows to be used as nesting material, with the result being a big decrease in the number of ticks in the area. 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. Use this product with liquid/granular insecticides like permethrin.
LIQUID & GRANULAR PESTICIDES: Products meant for widespread application include Permethrin and its analogues (resmethrin, cymethrin, etc.), available as a liquid concentrate and as granules. If liquid insecticides are used, application should be by fogging, if possible, and not by coarse sprays. Apply these products in a strip a few feet wide at the perimeter of your lawn at any areas adjacent to woods and underbrush. Treat any ornamental shrubs near the house that may serve as a habitat for small animals. The best time to apply these products is in late spring and the Fall.
There are many companies that offer a variety of organic tick spraying and damminix type services.
When wearing long pants, tuck the cuffs into your socks so any ticks that get on your shoes or socks will crawl on the outside of your pants and be less likely to bite. Also, wear light colored clothing so the ticks will be easier to spot. Smooth materials such as windbreakers are harder for ticks to grab onto and are preferable to knits.
Tick repellents that contain “permethrin” are meant to be sprayed onto your clothing. When using this product, spray the 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 are very intolerant of 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 that may still be present, 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.
YOUR SKIN Insect repellents that contain “DEET” are somewhat effective when applied to the arms, legs, and around the neck. 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 less 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. In addition to DEET, there are many naturally based repellents, especially useful for children.
Don’t forget to check yourself carefully for ticks not only when you get home but frequently while still outside! Remember some tick infections can be transmitted in 15 minutes, so never wait to remove a tick!
Taking ASTRAGALUS 400mg two or three daily may help prevent transmission of Lyme if you do receive a tick bite!
HOW TO REMOVE AN ATTACHED TICK
All tick bites are potentially dangerous, even with short attachment times.
Commercial tick removal “spoons” are safe and most 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 inject more germs into your skin.
Save the tick. 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.
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.
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 TBDs. Vaccines are not available for all the TBDs that dogs can get, and they don’t keep the dogs from bringing ticks into your home. For these reasons, it’s 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 tickborne 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 that 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 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 often, 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 PA (less than 20 have been awarded in more than 30 years) and 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.