5 Tick Bite Prevention Tips
Ticks that carry Lyme disease have been reported in nearly half of all of the counties in the United States, according to a study in the Journal of Medical Entomology. As the population of ticks increases across the country, there’s a growing chance you’ll come in contact with an infected tick or two at some point in your life.
Deer ticks are the primary type of tick that carries Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses like bartonellosis and babesiosis. However, other kinds of ticks can carry microbes that affect both humans and pets. Ticks are most active during the warmer months of the year, usually May through November. But they can remain active whenever temperatures stay above freezing, so it’s still possible to get bitten by a tick during the milder winter months.
Avoiding tick bites altogether is the best strategy to reduce the risk of contracting Lyme disease. You can still partake in the outdoor activities you love, but follow these tick bite prevention tips to help keep you and your family safe.
When people think of a hospitable living environment for ticks, they often picture heavily wooded areas. While that’s one place ticks reside, it’s not the only habitat that’s friendly to them. Ticks can also be found in tall grass, brushy areas, leaf litter piles, and on other animals. As a means of tick prevention for humans, survey your surroundings and take note of the areas that may welcome uninvited, blood-sucking guests. Keep away from these areas as much as possible. If you enjoy outdoor activities like walking, running, or hiking in the woods, stick to the center of the paths or trails to the best of your ability.
Several chemicals can serve as a tick repellent for humans. Products that contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-Undecanone can be used directly on the skin of adults. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns against using insect repellent on children who are younger than 2 months old, and they specifically caution against using OLE or PMD on children under 3 years of age. Apply any repellent product according to the instructions on the label. Experienced outdoorsmen often attach an inexpensive flea and tick repellant dog collar outside the top of their hiking boots as added protection. To find the best tick repellent for you, talk to your doctor or try searching the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) database of options.
Permethrin is a synthetic insecticide that’s made from chrysanthemum flowers. Regarding ticks, permethrin has both a repellent property and the ability to kill. The CDC suggests using products that contain 0.5% permethrin on the footwear, clothing, and camping gear you’re most likely to use when you’re outdoors. You can soak your apparel and gear or spray them, explains the University of Rhode Island's TickEncounter Resource Center.
Permethrin-treated clothing lasts approximately 3 to 4 weeks, including washings. The compound can be toxic to cats, so keep them away from clothing or gear until the items are dry. Additionally, many retail outdoor stores sell clothing that’s been pre-treated with permethrin.
Even when wearing treated clothes, when you come indoors, still carefully inspect your clothing for ticks and promptly remove any that have attempted to hitch a ride on your garments. If you need to clean your clothes, wash the items in hot water and tumble dry them on high heat. Cold or warm water and low or medium heat won’t kill the stealthy little critters.
To reduce your risk of contracting Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections, shower within two hours of coming inside, states the CDC. Showering allows unattached ticks to be washed away before they can inflict harm.
After you’ve showered, use a handheld mirror to inspect your body from head to toe for ticks. When checking yourself or your children, be sure to pay attention to the concealed niches of the body like:
- Around the hairline and scalp
- The ear area
- In the armpits
- Around the waist or in the belly button
- The groin or genital region
- The back of the kneecaps
When inspecting your pets for ticks, the American Kennel Club recommends examining your pet’s eye area, their ears, the spaces between their toes, under your pet’s tail, your pet’s genital region, and under their collar or harness.
Promptly remove embedded ticks from the skin with a pair of fine-pointed tweezers; don’t burn them, apply petroleum jelly or essential oils, or try any other trends you see floating around the internet. For a guide on how to safely remove a tick from humans and pets, check out this video from the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS).
There’s no perfect plan to guarantee you’ll never come in contact with ticks that carry disease, but by practicing tick prevention tips, you can significantly reduce your risks. When it comes to your beloved pets, consult with your veterinarian to determine the best approach to warding off ticks and protecting your furry family members as well.