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Protect Yourself and Your Family from Ticks

Jun 10, 2014 12:22AM ● By Erin Frisch

In spite of the extreme cold this past winter, tick populations are increasing. Many of us thought the cold we suffered in the form of polar vortices would have one upside fewer ticks. But turns out, they not only survived the pests thrived! That’s because of the snow; ticks die if they dry out, and all the snow that covered them allowed them to survive nicely through the winter months. That means the incidence of Lyme disease will increase this spring and summer. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that over 25,000 cases are reported annually, and the areas most at risk for tick infestations include New England, the Upper Midwest, and the mid Atlantic states. Nowadays, most people living in these parts of the country know someone who has had Lyme disease or is currently battling this debilitating disease, which can be quite serious. Learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones from tick bites. After all, nobody wants to stay inside when Mother Nature is making up for the foul winter she delivered!

Preventing Tick Bites

The blacklegged ticks that transmit Lyme disease, as well as other diseases, live in moist places. They don’t want to dry out, so damp leaf mold and other wet areas are their preferred habitat. They are found in fields of tall grasses and wooded areas. Keeping your grass cut and avoiding fields and forests will reduce your risk of picking up these troublesome hitchhikers.

When you do go into areas where ticks are likely to be, wear long pants, shoes and socks, and long sleeves. While you may be uncomfortable on warm days, dressing to keep ticks from getting onto your skin can save you a lot of grief later on. Tuck your pants into your socks, and spray your clothing with a tick repellent.

Using a Tick Repellent

When you’re going to be where the ticks are, whether you’re hiking, gardening, or camping, use a tick repellent. Permethrin is ideal for spraying on your camping and hiking gear. You can also use it on your clothing. To protect your skin, opt for a 20% or higher concentration of DEET. You can apply it to your skin as well as to your clothing, and you will be protected for several hours.

Always follow the directions on the repellent’s label carefully and avoid getting it on your mouth, eyes, and hands. Don’t let children use a spray repellent by themselves; have an adult use it on them. Cream and stick-style repellents are easier to use on children.

Tick Checks Are a Must

After spending time outdoors, even in your own backyard, make it a point to check your body for ticks. Stand in front of a full-length mirror and check every part of your body, especially under your arms, inside your ears and belly button, around the waist, in all your body hair, and between your legs. Be sure to check children well, and if your pets are free to roam in tick areas, they should also be checked. While there are varying opinions about cats and dogs getting Lyme disease, and there is actually a vaccine for them, it is more likely that they’ll drop ticks onto your couch, bedding, and other furnishings inside your house, where they’ll be happy to crawl onto you.

After checking your body, shift your attention to your clothing and shoes. If you find ticks, remove them at once. Throw your clothes into the dryer and run it on high heat for at least 10 minutes to kill any ticks you may have missed.

Keep Your Garden and Yard Tick Free

Don’t invite deer or other wildlife to graze in your yard or garden. Erect barriers to keep deer away or get rid of plants that deer love to feed on. You can also call a professional pest control company that will spray a chemical to keep ticks at bay.

In addition, keep your yard and garden clean. Get rid of leaf litter, mow the grass, and sprinkle wood chips between your garden and neighboring wooded areas. A barrier of crushed rock or stones between your yard and surrounding fields and woods will also help keep ticks away from your property. Keep play areas free of leaf debris and long grass, and keep kids’ toys out of long grass to discourage ticks from getting onto them and then biting your kids.

What If You Find a Tick?

If you find a tick attached to your skin, use tweezers or a plastic “tick spoon” to remove it. If the tick has been attached to your skin for less than 24 hours, the chances of getting an infection are minimal. Nonetheless, keep a close watch for a couple of weeks for any symptoms to show up. While the telltale bull’s-eye rash is an indication of Lyme disease, it doesn’t always appear. So watch for flu-like symptoms as well, and if you notice any, see your healthcare provider right away.

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