Stay Safe from Ticks
Enjoy nature this summer, but be on guard against ticks. These tiny blood-sucking bugs are known to carry various diseases, including Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tularemia. According to Johns Hopkins Lyme Disease Research Center, more than 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease, which is spread by ticks, occur every year in the United States. While not every tick carries germs that will make you sick, it’s best to err on the side of caution. We’ve gathered the best advice from top medical researchers and institutions to help you make this summer your safest yet.
Know and Avoid Tick Habitats
Different varieties of ticks occupy different parts of the country. To determine which species are common in your area—and before you travel or hike—check out these maps from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that show the geographical distribution of different types of ticks in the United States. In all locales, it’s best to avoid walking through wooded, overgrown areas where ticks nest and go “questing”—waiting for passing hosts on which to feed. While keeping to well-trodden and marked trails is important, it's not a guarantee of safety. Ticks are known to hang out near highly frequented areas too, so you should steer clear of tall grasses by the side of trails, where ticks can easily climb aboard.
Tick-Proof Your Yard
Lower you risk of tick bites at home by keeping your lawn mowed and tidy. If your yard is close to a wooded area, meadow, or taller grasses, create a tick barrier using mulch or gravel to prevent ticks from traveling into your yard. Because mice transfer Lyme disease to ticks, make sure you don’t have mouse nests in or around your home. Deer also carry ticks, so install a deer fence to protect your garden—and your family and pets—from these blood-sucking bugs.
Wear the Right Clothing
If you’re going hiking or camping, or when you're working outdoors, appropriate clothing is key to staving off ticks. According to Dr. Maliha Ilias, Lyme Disease Research Program Officer at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, you should wear loose-fitting layers that cover your arms and legs. Light-colored clothing is best, because it enables you to spot a tick—which looks like a dark speck—more easily. Also, look for special clothing treated with tick and insect repellent.
Tuck Pants into Socks
While ticks can’t fly or jump, they do wait in grass and bushes for unsuspecting hosts to pass by. To minimize exposure, wear pants instead of shorts if you’re going hiking or camping this summer, and always tuck your pant legs into your socks. Experts also suggest duct-taping the top of your socks over your pants or leggings to keep ticks out. While this may not be the most stylish look, it will prevent ticks from coming into contact with your ankles and shins.
Use Chemical Repellent
A number of chemicals repel ticks, including DEET, permethrin, and picaridin. Repellents that use DEET have caused some concern over health risks, but if used correctly, this chemical is considered the gold standard for preventing tick and mosquito bites—and cutting down on the risk of disease. If you’d prefer not to put chemicals directly on your skin, look for sprays that contain permethrin. This common tick pesticide can be applied to clothing and lasts for months. Be sure to follow product directions for application and maintenance.
Keep Tweezers in Your First Aid Kit
Ticks latch onto skin, so if you do get bit, it’s important to know how to remove the tick safely and completely, without turning, twisting, or crushing it. To do this, you'll need tweezers. Keep a pair in your first aid kit —which should be easily accessible in your car’s trunk or glove compartment. Remove a tick by grasping its head with the tweezers as close to the surface of the skin as possible. Withdraw it slowly and steadily, using a smooth, constant motion. Once it's out, clean the bite area and your hands with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.
After working or playing outdoors, make sure you shower right away when you get home. According to the CDC, showering in hot water within two hours has been shown to reduce the risk of getting Lyme disease and may reduce the risk of other tick-borne diseases too. Showering will also wash away any unattached ticks and give you a chance to do a complete tick check on all areas of your body.
Check Your Whole Body
Checking your skin for ticks is essential after you've spent time outdoors, especially in tick-prone areas. In order to transmit Lyme disease, ticks typically need to be attached to the body for between 48 and 72 hours—but don’t wait that long. Using a handheld or full-length mirror, look for small red bumps (bites) as well as bumps that have a black dot in the middle (where part of the tick remains). Be sure to check the entire body, including in and around ears; under arms; inside the belly button; around the waist; between the legs; behind the knees; and on ankles and feet. Have a friend or family member assist you in checking your hair and scalp, using a fine-tooth comb.
Don’t Forget Your Pets, Car, and Gear
Ticks don’t just hitch rides on adult humans. Kids, animals, clothing, camping gear, and even your vehicle can harbor ticks too. For your kids, follow the same precautions as you would for yourself, and make sure to do a full body check and have them shower when they come in from outdoors. If your pets go outside, follow the CDC’s approved methods daily, and ask your vet about tick-control products. Treat gear and clothing with permethrin before you head outdoors to save you and your family from tick bites and infestations later on.
Heat Is Your Friend
Wash your clothing and gear (if possible) in hot water, then tumble dry on high. Washing alone isn't enough, according to the Cleveland Clinic and the CDC: Clothes need to be machine dried to kill the bugs. Cold and medium temperature water will not kill ticks, nor will air-drying or drying on low-heat settings. For getting rid of these tenacious critters, a blast of high heat is just the ticket.
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