If you live in a part of the country where blacklegged ticks are an issue, you need to know the proper precautions you should be taking to avoid contracting Lyme disease. Most notably a problem in the Northeast (Maine through Virginia), northern central states (particularly Wisconsin and Minnesota), and on the West Coast, these little insects can transmit a bacterial infection to you without your ever knowing you’ve been bitten. That’s why it’s so important to be informed about what you can do to avoid contracting this uncomfortable and possibly chronic condition. While the disease itself can be treated in early stages, if left unchecked it can lead to more serious problems. Most people are familiar with the “bulls-eye” rash that is a telltale indicator of Lyme disease, but not everyone actually develops that symptom. The best way to avoid getting Lyme disease is through prevention; here are some tips on how to keep yourself, your family, and your home safe from ticks.
Know Their Environment
Ticks have particular conditions they just love to be in, and when you know what areas put you at higher risk for coming into contact with ticks, you’ll know to avoid them. Wooded and/or grassy areas, even those in an urban environment, are favorites for ticks, especially if they’re moist and shaded from the sun. Just by brushing up against low-lying vegetation or walking through leaf litter in such an area, you can end up with a tick on your skin, clothes, or bag. Avoid areas like these as much as possible once the weather turns warmer, but if you have to be in one, be sure to take extra precautions.
Clean Up Yours
It’s not just hikers and outdoor enthusiasts who are at risk of getting bit by a tick and contracting Lyme disease; you can easily pick up a tick while gardening or hanging out in your own yard. Make your landscape as inhospitable as possible to these little critters, particularly those areas close to patios and play areas, by keeping your yard free of leaves and other vegetative debris, clearing away brush or heavy weeds, and keeping low-lying vegetation away from paths and other commonly used areas. Mow your lawn regularly and get rid of old furniture or other garbage that may become a hideout for ticks. Deer and ticks go hand in hand, so discourage deer from feeding in your yard as much as possible. If ticks are a particular problem in your yard, consider talking to a pest-control expert about treating your yard with a chemical deterrent.
Using an insect repellent that contains DEET can help to keep the ticks away. Apply the repellent to exposed skin and/or clothing according to the manufacturer’s directions. Adults may want to apply insect repellents for children rather than allowing them to do it themselves, taking care to avoid contact with eyes, nose, or mouth. Reduce the amount of exposed skin by wearing long sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, and shoes or boots when you know you’re going to be in an area where ticks may be present. Wear light-colored clothing to make ticks easier to spot, and tuck your pants into your socks to prevent them from travelling up the cuff and onto your skin.
After you’ve been outdoors in an area that may have ticks, perform a thorough check of your clothing, gear, and body. Search yourself and your children (use a hand mirror, if necessary) paying special attention to warm, moist areas such as the underarms, belly button, waist, between the legs, any area that has hair, and the area in and around ears. Place clothing in a dryer that’s set on high heat to kill any ticks that may have gotten on them.
Check Your Pets
Pets are another way ticks can get into your home and then onto your skin, allowing them to bite and transmit Lyme disease. Check cats and dogs thoroughly after they’ve been outdoors and immediately remove and dispose of any ticks you find. Ask your veterinarian about available treatments to repel ticks from your animal’s fur and skin.
If you do find a tick on yourself, remove it immediately. If you detect and remove the tick within 24 hours of being bitten, your chances of developing Lyme disease are extremely small. Use fine tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible, then pull directly upward in one steady motion. Don’t jerk or twist, which can cause parts to break off below the skin’s surface. If a portion of the tick remains, don’t overreact; remove what you can with the tweezers, then let the area heal. Clean the area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, iodine or soap and water. Don’t use nail polish, a match, petroleum jelly, or other unorthodox methods to remove ticks. Keep an eye on the area and visit a doctor if you develop a rash, fever, or flu-like symptoms.