Another in our summer series on Lyme prevention: How To Stay Tick-Safe on the Gold Course This Summer.
Originally published in Executive Women’s Golf Association Newsletter, June 28, 2016.
Global Lyme Alliance’s Advice to Golfers: Stay Tick-Safe This Summer
When most people head to a golf course, Lyme disease isn’t on their minds. But even the most urban golf course can be home to ticks that carry the Borrelia burgdorferi spirochete which causes Lyme disease.
“Golf courses are the perfect habitat for ticks,” said Gregory Owens of the School of Health Sciences and Practice at New York Medical College. “People on golf courses scare away the animals that usually prey on small rodents, so these tick-harboring rodents flourish.”
Owens and his research team conducted a small 2014 study of golfers at an Orange County, New York course. Nearly 25 percent said they had been diagnosed with Lyme disease in the past—much higher than the rate in the general population in the area, which was 0.2 percent.
Golfers need to be particularly careful this year because Lyme disease is increasing significantly in its normal hotspots across the U.S. and the geographic reach of Lyme is expanding. The disease now affects around 329,000 Americans each year and some experts believe the actual number could be far greater. In addition, ticks spread other diseases and co-infections such as Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis.
While most tick-borne illnesses—led by Lyme disease— can be treated with antibiotics, 10 to 20 percent of those who are diagnosed and treated early still progress to chronic multi-organ illness which may include severe musculoskeletal pain, cardiac failure and neurological impairment, including memory and cognitive loss.
So how can you protect yourself? Here is some expert advice from the Global Lyme Alliance (gla.org), the nation’s leading private nonprofit dedicated to conquering tickborne disease through research and education:
Know the habitat ticks prefer. Most ticks are not usually found on open, well-groomed fairways (though they can live in lawns), but are in plentiful supply on the perimeters of golf courses. They can be particularly dangerous to golfers who think nothing of chasing a tee shot into the bushes, tall grasses just off the rough, or patchy woods. Be very conscious of your exposure if you do decide to venture into tick habitat to play a shot.
Be very cautious when searching for lost balls. Unless you are in a very tight match, think about dropping another ball. The cost of a few extra balls is hugely less than the cost and inconvenience of becoming the next Lyme disease victim. Leave that hook or slice in the woods.
Avoid shady areas as much as possible. Ticks favor areas that are shady and moist. They particularly like vegetation and tall grass in the shade. They also hang out in leaf litter, so be conscious of any areas where any leaves haven’t been groomed away.
Spray on repellent. To prevent a tick bite, spray repellent on exposed skin. Consumer Reports recently named Sawyer 20% Picaridin its top insect repellent overall. It was the only one that could protect against deer ticks as well as Culex mosquitoes, which can spread West Nile virus, for at least 8 hours. Also top-rated were Ben’s 30% DEET Tick & Insect Wilderness Formula and Repel Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus 30%. Wear the right clothes. Most of us are familiar with the advice to wear long, khaki or light colored, pants (to make ticks easier to spot) tucked into long socks and long sleeved shirts. But that kind of outfit is tough in the hot, skin-baring days of summer. On days when you plan to wear shorts, T-shirt and chase balls in the rough, wear clothes pre-treated inside as well as outside with odorless permethrin, a repellent that kills ticks on contact. You can buy the clothes from retailers such as Columbia, Insect Shield, L.L. Bean and REI. You can also spray your clothes at home with permethrin, but it’s important to carefully follow instructions and precautions.
Spray your golf shoes the day before an outing with a permethrin-based repellent. You don’t want ticks to latch on to your shoe laces and crawl up your leg. In one study, shoes that were sprayed with the repellent provided 74 times the protection from hungry deer ticks than untreated shoes.
Don’t forget to spray your golf bag. A common access point for ticks is to brush off on the underside of your golf bag as you roll over longer grass, and then they climb up to the upper part where they can easily brush off on you.
AFTER YOUR GAME:
Strip off all clothing immediately upon your return home and put them through a sixminute dryer cycle at full heat. Ticks can survive the wash, but the high dry heat will kill any ticks on your clothing. If you shower at the course, put your clothes in a sealed bag so any potential ticks are contained.
Shower, shampoo and do a thorough body check looking for ticks especially in body folds and crevices. Check everywhere, using mirrors if necessary, including behind the knees, back of the neck, behind and in ears, between toes, on the ankles, belly button, underarms, scalp, and genitals.
Don’t panic if you find a deer tick. If it’s attached, take a pair of fine-tipped tweezers, clasp the tick as close to the surface of your skin as possible, and gently pull it straight out. Clean the area with soap and water, rubbing alcohol or an iodine scrub. Stick the tick in a jar or sealed plastic bag, in case your doctor wants to see it, or flush it down the toilet. Some towns will test the tick for you, to see if it’s a Lyme carrier.