Once again it is fall when we look forward with eager anticipation to those outside activities that take up our weekends, whether it is raking leaves in our own backyard, watching our children play soccer, or taking hikes with our families. Yet, if a very small but deadly tick has its way, you or your children may soon be spending more of your free time indoors rather than outdoors, too sick to care much about anything other than trying to regain the otherwise healthy lifestyle you once enjoyed.
Ticks are not just warm weather pests anymore, to be vigilant about in the spring and summer, but are now a yearly phenomenon. And this time of year, as the leaves fall off the trees, you are most likely to encounter the adult deer tick waiting patiently for you to walk by while hoping to get its next blood meal from you.
Should that tick be infected with disease pathogens, those same infectious agents can be transferred to you and your children. These disease organisms can make you very sick with a variety of possible infections including the all too familiar Lyme disease, as well as other equally frightening but lesser known diseases such as babesiosis, anaplasmosis, bartonellosis, mycoplasma, Powassan virus, and Borrelia miyamotoi (so new there is not yet a name for this Lyme like disease).
WHERE TICKS CAN BE FOUND
Ticks generally need two elements to survive – a high humidity environment and a host to feed on. Without both of these, a tick just cannot survive. Consequently, you are likely to find ticks in great abundance in the woods, in leaf litter, at the transition edge of the woods and garden areas (ecotone), on and along stone walls, in brush and leaf piles, on tree stumps and logs, along hiking and walking trails, in dog parks, and high shrub and grass areas. These are all high humidity areas where ticks have access to the hosts they feed on including mammals, birds, lizards, and most regrettably us.
High risk activities for getting bitten by a tick include raking leaves, viewing and playing sports such as soccer and golf, hiking, gardening, yard work, playing in one’s yard, school recess and field trips, and just about any activity that places you in the tick’s domain.
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT THIS THREAT
When you or your children are outdoors where there are likely to be ticks, it is strongly recommended that you wear tick repellent clothing. The clothing should be treated with permethrin, an insecticide which repels and kills ticks and which has been approved by the EPA as safe for use on clothing apparel worn by both adults and children. You can treat your own clothing and footwear, or purchase pre-treated clothing with the proprietary Insect Shield label from suppliers such as: REI, LLBean, ExOfficio, Orvis, etc. Once per month you should also spray outdoor shoes, athletic gear, tennis bags, back packs, camping gear (anything that could end up on the ground outside) with permethrin to keep the ticks away. Wearing an EPA-approved insect repellent on exposed skin parts will also provide added protection, but by itself, does not work as effectively as tick repellent clothing
Some simple prevention measures which are highly recommended for you and your family to follow when outside include:
- Avoid areas where there are ticks to the maximum extent possible. This is much easier said than done, but cannot be stressed enough.
- Wear clothing that is treated with permethrin. This is one of the easiest things to do with big prevention payoffs. Also, you should spray your outside shoe wear, backpacks, etc. with permethrin once per month.
- If you do not choose to treat your own clothing with permethrin (good for 6 washings), send it to be treated at the Insect Shield facility in North Carolina. It will come back, looking the same as you sent it, but with the permethrin protection bonded to the fabric and good for more than 70 washings.
- Apply a tick repellent on your exposed skin. The tick repellent must say on the container that it repels ticks and for how long. You can buy insect repellents with chemicals such as IR3535, Picaridin, and DEET in them; or if you prefer using organics, try essential oils like Lemon Eucalyptus Oil and Cedar Oil.
- Keep your outside clothes outside your home. There can be ticks on the clothing from outdoor activities. As soon as you come in from outdoors, put your clothes in a separate hamper in the mudroom or garage if possible. Then as soon as you can, put the clothes in the clothes dryer on high heat for 20 to 30 minutes. The dry heat will effectively kill any ticks that may be on them.
- Conduct full body tick checks of family members who go outside, both when they return indoors as well as at night before they go to bed. Be sure to check some of the areas you are more likely to find ticks – between your toes, behind your knees, in the navel, groin area, on your back, in the armpit, back of neck, behind your ears, or on your head. You can never check too often, as ticks can be very hard to find.