Chuck, I really enjoyed your article discussing Lyme disease, even though it gave me the jitters thinking about the ticks that carry it and probably circle my yard, around which my kids and dogs run. So what are the best ways to avoid being bitten? – “Terrified of Ticks” in Wyoming
Last week, I showed how chronic Lyme disease, or CLD, is on the rise and spreading, domestically and internationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other reliable sources.
This week, I wish to discuss how to prevent or minimize being bitten by deer ticks, which can carry the CLD bacteria. And next week, I will discuss various diagnoses and treatments for CLD.
Now is definitely the time of the year to discuss with your family and friends ways to avoid ticks, not only because of the increase of summer activities (hiking, fishing, gardening, etc.) but also because dry and warm winters and early summer heat waves have swelled their populations.
Obviously, the best way to avoid Lyme disease is to avoid being bitten by deer ticks. So do your best to stay away from areas potentially infested with them. That means staying on paths and out of brush, tall weeds and long grass.
Remember that ticks don’t fly or jump. They cling to plant life often no more than 18 inches off the ground, where they wait for humans or animals to brush up against them. Once on board your clothing, they crawl to areas of open skin.
That is why the American Lyme Disease Foundation advises, according to The Washington Post, “wearing light-colored, tightly woven clothing to make it easier to see crawling ticks.” The ALDF also suggests “avoiding sitting directly on the ground or on stone walls; walking in the middle of established trails rather than at the edges; tucking pants into socks, and shirts into pants; and wearing covered shoes.”
Bottom line: Cover as much skin as you can.
If you’re going to be outdoors working or playing, apply insect repellant to your clothing and skin (the Mayo Clinic recommends those containing a 10 to 30 percent concentration of DEET); just make sure you wash thoroughly when coming indoors or before eating.
If you’re camping, elevate your bedding and other items on which those creepy critters might crawl or cling.
For those who own pets, keep them on a leash, and keep them from roaming into potentially invested areas. Check them often for ticks, and bathe them regularly so that they don’t become transports for ticks. Furthermore, consider where your animals lie and sleep in the house; if it’s often in family beds, don’t be surprised if you find yourself “sleeping with the enemy.”
Secondly, treat your yard or campsite with insect repellant or pesticide, but be very careful, as some are unsafe for kids and hazardous for pets. Read labels, and make sure campground regulations allow such treatments.
Right before you come indoors, check yourself or have someone else thoroughly check you for ticks. Pay special attention to your head, your hair, the back of your neck, your underarm areas, between your legs, around your waist and the back of your knees.
According to The Washington Post, the CDC adds, “Include bathing after being outside, to help spot ticks or wash off ones that haven’t attached yet; checking outdoor gear and pets for ticks; and running clothing through a hot dryer for an hour to kill any ticks.”
The good news, if you will, is that “a tick that carries the bacteria has to be on your body for 24 to 36 hours before it can transmit Lyme disease,” according to Dr. Rajlakshmi Krishnamurthy from Boston Medical Center. So you have a small window to remove them from your body and garments.
The bad news, according to Phillip Baker, executive director of the American Lyme Disease Foundation, is that the risk of Lyme disease increases if an attached deer tick is on you for 36 to 48 hours and is engorged.
If you find a tick feeding on you, take caution that you remove it correctly. Sue Beebe, the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s assistant director, warns, “Using matches, Vaseline, credit cards, those are the things not to remove a tick.”
Kelly Spindler, director of environmental health for the Ross County Health District in Ohio, adds: “Try not to twist it, and never try to burn it off with a match or by pouring some sort of chemical on it. The last thing you want is for the tick to regurgitate or burst, which will increase the risk of infection.”
Instead, use tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible (by its mouth’s base), and then pull it smoothly and directly up. Apply antiseptic immediately afterward.
Lastly, regarding being “terrified of ticks,” heed the advice given by Paul Curtis, a natural resources professor and tick expert at Cornell University, who told The Washington Post that he recommends carefulness over paranoia: “You just need to be aware that (ticks are) in your environment and err on the side of caution in terms of your checking, but not allow (them) to hinder or affect your lifestyle.”
Next week, in my last article on CLD, I will not only discuss diagnoses and various treatments but also reveal how misdiagnoses can occur easily with CLD symptoms. I also will discuss a young and courageous woman named Brittany, who, even at this moment, is fighting CLD.
And for a more holistic medical approach to Lyme disease, my wife, Gena, and I recommend Sierra Integrative Medical Center, in Reno, Nev. The people there are pioneers in integrative medicine. They blend the best of conventional medicine with the best alternative therapies.