Saturday, June 7, 2008

Prevent Lyme Disease

Deer Tick Ixodes scapularis (NOAA)
If you don't get bitten by a tick, you won't contract Lyme disease. Therefore, the best protection from the disease is to avoid the disease carrier, the deer tick.
  • Avoid Ticks

    Deer ticks are most commonly found in wooded areas, bushy areas, tall grass, and areas with leaf litter. However, they can also be found in lawns and gardens, more commonly at edges of wooded areas and near walls. If you must enter an area that could harbor ticks, stay toward the center of trails. Try to avoid contact with grass, bushes, and leaf litter. The ticks that transmit Lyme disease are most active May through July, though they may be found at other times as well.

  • Dress Appropriately

    • Wear long pants, long-sleeve shirts, shoes, and socks to help keep ticks off of your skin.
    • Wear light-colored clothing to make it easier to spot ticks.
    • Tie back long hair; consider wearing a hat.
    • Tuck pant legs into socks or boots. Tuck shirts into pants. This will help keep ticks away from skin.
    • Consider taping the area where pants and socks meet to prevent ticks from crawling under clothes.

  • Consider Tick Repellent

    You can spray tick repellent on clothes and shoes before entering tick-infested areas. Two common choices are products containing the repellent DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) and those containing the repellent/insecticide permethrin. DEET-based repellents may also be applied directly to the skin, to help prevent tick bites. Permethrin should not be applied directly onto skin.

  • Check for Ticks

    Check for ticks at least daily. You should also inspect your pets. The following body areas are common sites of tick bites:

    • armpits
    • back of the knee
    • inside of elbow
    • nape of the neck
    • navel
    • scalp
    • groin

  • Check your Clothes

    Even if your body is free of ticks, your clothes may have acquired them. Ticks can survive quite a long time, waiting for a host, but you can kill them by running clothes through the dryer on high heat for a normal cycle. Normal washing of clothes will not kill ticks.

Minimizing Risk if you are Bitten

If you find a tick embedded in your skin, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk of contracting Lyme disease. Infected ticks normally cannot begin transmitting the spirochete (the bacterium that causes Lyme disease) until the tick has been attached for about 36-48 hours. If you find a deer tick attached to your skin that has not yet become engorged (swollen with blood), chances are good it hasn't had sufficient time to transmit Lyme disease.

  • Don't Panic

    Only specific types of ticks can carry Lyme disease. Also, not all ticks that can carry the disease actually do carry it.

  • Remove the Tick

    Remove a tick from your skin as soon as you notice it. Use tweezers to grasp the tick very close to where it is attached to the skin. Avoid crushing the tick’s body (if you do, just be sure to clean your skin with soapy water or swab it with alcohol after removal). With a smooth and steady motion, pull the tick’s body away from your skin. Once the tick is removed, clean the skin with warm, soapy water. If you are very concerned that the tick could carry the disease, you could keep it for later inspection. Don't be concerned if the tick’s mouthparts remain in the skin. Once the mouthparts are separated from the tick's body, it can no longer transmit the Lyme disease bacteria. Don’t use petroleum jelly, a hot match, nail polish, or other products to remove a tick. These removal methods could actually make the situation worse, causing the tick to excrete or regurgitate bacteria.

Tick-Proofing your Surroundings

  • Consider Pesticides around your Home

    A pesticide designed to kill ticks called an "acaricide" can reduce tick populations around your home. A single application at the end of May or beginning of June (possibly reapplied in September to control adult ticks) can reduce tick populations as much as 68% to 100%. Timing is important, so check with local health officials about the best time to apply acaricide in your area. If you choose to apply pesticide yourself as opposed to hiring a professional, you will need to check into the regulations regarding pesticide application on residential properties.

  • Landscape to Deter Ticks

    Consider the habits of ticks when planning the landscaping of your yard. Ticks thrive in humid, wooded areas. They tend to avoid sunny, dry areas. There are several steps you can take to make your property less attractive to ticks:

    • Keep your yard free of leaf litter.
    • Clear brush and mow grass.
    • Separate lawns and wooded areas with wood chips or gravel to restrict tick migration.
    • Mow the lawn and clear brush and leaf litter frequently.
    • Keep the ground under bird feeders clean.
    • Stack wood in dry areas.
    • Keep recreational yard equipment away from yard edges and trees.

  • Discourage Deer

    Deer ticks aren't found exclusively on deer, but reducing deer populations around your home may reduce their prevalance. To discourage deer from your property:

    • Do not feed deer on your property.
    • Construct barriers such as fencing to discourage deer from entering your property.
    • Plant "deer-resistant" or deer-proof plants.

  • Consider Additional Measures

    • You can install bait boxes that treat wild rodents with acaricide. These devices can reduce the incidence of ticks around homes by more than 50%. The bait boxes do not harm the rodents.
    • If you wish to keep deer near your home, but live in a high-risk area, devices exist for applying topical acaricides to deer.
    • Fungal agents are available for biological control of ticks.
    • There are plants you can include in your landscaping and natural extracts that could be applied around the home or on clothes that safely repel ticks.

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