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Tick-Smarts

Lyme and other tick-borne diseases have become an epidemic, with more than 300,000 cases diagnosed each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Disease detection can be difficult and treatment complicated. Protect yourself this tick season (April through October) with these tips.

  1. Avoid wet areas: Ticks thrive in shady, moist, wooded areas. Stay on paths and don’t blaze trails. And think sunny: Ticks don’t like dry, clear areas. If you’re picnicking, select open ground.
  2. Repel ticks: The CDC recommends using insect repellents, but choose wisely. DEET is the most common but has caused health concerns including eye irritation and, in high doses, neurological problems such as seizures. Still, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) labels it “generally safer than many people assume” and “a viable option” in tick-infested areas. The EWG advises using Permethrin-treated clothes with caution as the chemical is toxic. For more on the safety of repellents, see bit.ly/ewgbugrepel.
  3. Inspect your pets: Ticks can hitchhike home on your dog or cat, then attach to you later, so do a tick check on your pets as well. And talk to your vet about tick protection for your animals.
  4. Dress appropriately: Ticks can’t jump or fly; they climb onto you from ground level or scale grasses and shrubs and grab onto you as you brush past. Always wear shoes, socks, and pants in tick habitats. Tucking your pant legs into socks is an easy way to keep ticks out.
  5. Make your yard tick-safe: Reduce your yard’s tick habitat by keeping leaves, tall grass, and shrubs out of areas you use regularly. Distract deer and rodents from your yard. The CDC offers more advice at www.cdc.gov/lyme/prev/in_the_yard.html.
  6. Do a tick check: After coming indoors, do a full-body tick check on yourself and kids. Ticks usually get onto your lower legs and climb upward in search of a meal. The shower is a good place for a check: Look under your arms, in your groin area, and especially in your hair.
  7. Clean your clothes: If you think you may have encountered ticks, the CDC recommends tossing your clothes into the dryer set on high heat for an hour to kill off ticks. Washing your clothes won’t kill ticks, but drying them with intense heat is quite effective.

What to Do If You Find a Tick

If you discover a tick on you, there’s no risk if it’s still crawling around. And the chance of contracting Lyme disease is small if it’s attached for less than 24 hours. Still, the odds of contracting any tick-borne disease are minimized if it’s removed as soon as possible.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises using tweezers to grasp the tick close to your skin, pulling it straight out. Don’t twist the tick; it can break off and remain in your skin. Clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

Dispose of a tick in alcohol, wrapping it in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Or, if you plan on seeing a doctor, put it in a plastic bag and bring it with you to be tested for Lyme.

Watch for signs of illness, such as rash or fever, in the days after the bite. See a healthcare provider if these develop.

This article originally appeared as “Tick Smarts” in the April 2016 issue of Experience Life.

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