8 Ways to Protect Yourself & Your Family
Fall tick season is in full swing and so are popular outdoors activities, whether hiking in the woods to enjoy the peak leaf season, raking, or taking the dog out for a walk through the park.
But fall also brings unwelcome visitors: adult black-legged or deer ticks that can transmit Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. While ticks are commonly found in heavily wooded areas, they also thrive in backyard grasses, gardens, unmanicured hedges and leaf litter. In fact, experts say that the majority of people who develop tick-borne diseases came in contact with the tick that made them sick right in their own backyards.
“Most people think ticks disappear once the weather turns cooler,” says Global Lyme Alliance CEO Scott Santarella, “but they remain active as long as the temperatures are above freezing and the ground is not frozen or covered by snow. It’s crucial for anyone who enjoys spending time outdoors to take steps to protect themselves from ticks.”
Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the country, with more than 329,000 new cases each year. Lyme has been reported in all 50 U.S. states and 80 countries. A bite from a tick that transmits Lyme can leave you with a mix of symptoms that range from fatigue and flu-like aches and pains to serious, long-term complications that can affect the brain, joints, nerves, muscles and heart.
“Early detection is crucial, but unfortunately commonly used diagnostic tests miss 55% of positive Lyme cases,” said Santarella. “Without a reliable diagnostic test, it’s all too easy for patients to slip through the cracks and wind up suffering from late stage, debilitating Lyme disease before the disease is even detected.”
Even though the drought conditions that gripped much of the Northeast this summer could have impacted the survival of ticks, who prefer moist, humid conditions, Connecticut’s Chief Entomologist Kirby C. Stafford III, Ph.D. said that the hot, dry summer most likely would not be enough to put a dent in tick populations.
To protect you and your family from ticks this fall season, GLA recommends:
- When hiking, walk in the middle of a trail; stay away from bushes and leaf litter.
- Do not lean against trees, roadside stone walls, or sit on logs.
- When walking through wooded or grassy areas, wear light-colored clothes so you can spot ticks more easily. Wear a long-sleeved shirt if possible and long pants, socks and boots or closed-toe shoes. Tuck your hair in a hat, your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks.
- Spray your clothing, socks and shoes with permethrin, an insecticide that kills ticks on contact. You can also buy pre-treated repellent clothing at outdoors retailers.
- Apply a tick repellent to exposed skin, preferably DEET of at least 20% concentration or Picaridin. If you’d prefer using organics, try essential oils like lemon eucalyptus.
- Once back indoors, remove clothes and toss them into a hot dryer for 10 minutes. The heat will effectively kill the ticks.
- Shower or bathe within two hours of coming indoors to wash away any unattached ticks. Feel your entire body for unexpected bumps that could be ticks. Pay special attention to hidden spots—the hairline, scalp, between the toes, behind the knees, around the waistband, in the navel, armpits and groin.
- Check your pet. Deer ticks can crawl onto your dog or cat and can attach to you after you touch your pet. Make sure to inspect pets after they’ve been outside. Like you, they’re also susceptible to Lyme.
If you find a tick on your body, it’s important to remove it safely. Use a fine-tipped tweezer to grab the tick “head” as close to the skin as possible and pull it out like a splinter. “Adult ticks have longer mouth-parts,” said Dr. Stafford. “So it can be a little harder to remove them. Don’t yank, just pull gently and firmly.”