Prevent Lyme Disease
By Donna Moxley
More than 25,000 people in the US will develop Lyme disease this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s easily treated if caught early, but becauses its symptoms resemble other diseases like meningitis or arthritis, it can be hard to diagnose. Lyme can lead to serious health problems if left untreated, affecting joints, the heart, and the nervous system.
Most common in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest, Lyme disease is carried by deer ticks—very tiny, brownish-black ticks that hitch a ride on many animals, not just deer.
Here are some tips to help prevent infection.
Keep your distance from ticks
Blacklegged (deer) ticks thrive in moist and humid areas in or near wooded and grassy places, but no natural, vegetated area can be considered completely free of infected ticks. To help decrease their numbers, do the following:
- Clear away leaf litter and brush.
- Mow grass.
- Stack woodpiles in a dry spot off the ground.
- Keep shrubs and vegetation away from patios, play areas, and playground equipment.
- Place wood chips or gravel between the lawn and the woods.
Keep ticks from getting … attached
You can’t control the tick population everywhere you go, especially when you enjoy the outdoors, so learning their behavior is key to protecting yourself.
Once a tick makes contact with a host, it climbs upward until reaching a protected area. Then it begins to insert its mouthparts into the skin until it finds blood to feed on.
Take these steps to keep them from their lunch:
- Walk in the center of trails and avoid tall vegetation.
- Wear long pants, long sleeves, and long socks. Tuck your pant legs into your socks, even using tape around the socks for extra security.
- Wear light-colored clothing so you can easily see ticks crawling on your clothes.
- Avoid sitting directly on the ground or on stone walls (havens for ticks and their hosts).
- Keep long hair tied back, especially when gardening.
- Spot-check clothes frequently.
- Check your clothing for ticks that may have hitched a ride indoors. Placing clothes into a dryer on high heat can kill ticks.
- Check your body for ticks after being outdoors, even in your own yard. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body and remove any tick you find. Use extra scrutiny to look for ticks on the scalp, behind the ears, behind the knees, in the armpits, and in the groin area.
- A shower and shampoo may help to remove crawling ticks, but won’t remove those that have already attached themselves.
- Check your pets for ticks, as well.
To avoid the potentially harmful chemical DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) and permethrin, a naturally derived pesticide that kills aquatic animals, use oils of citronella, clove, lavender, and lily of the valley as repellants. Rose geranium oil contains geraniol, which has been found to be more effective than DEET. Research has also indicated that garlic and tea tree oil may be useful in the fight against ticks.
"Lyme Disease," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov
The University of Rhode Island TickEncounter Resource Center, www.tickencounter.org, American Lyme Disease Foundation, www.aldf.com
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