Stay Safe This Summer and Protect Yourself from Ticks

June 14, 2018

Tick protection is important and simple to achieve

By Dr. Harry Oken, Columbia Association’s medical director

People don’t realize how small ticks can be. A baby tick can be the size of a poppy seed!

Deer ticks can transmit Lyme disease, but many ticks harbor other diseases. A tick needs to feed on you for 48 hours to give you Lyme disease, making it important to do tick checks after outdoor activities.

Stay out of tall grass, and when you are camping, prudent use of insect repellent that contains DEET is recommended. When you are hiking, stay on the trail. Ticks are in search of mammalian blood once the temperature goes above 37 degrees. The ticks are positioned on the tips of tall grass and wait for an unsuspecting mammal (deer and humans) to brush against the grass.

The incubation period for Lyme disease can be from three to 21 days, so only about 60% of people who get Lyme remember being bitten by a tick. Between 60-70% of people with Lyme disease get a rash; often, active acute Lyme disease causes flu-like symptoms. More chronic Lyme disease can cause a variety of problems, including rheumatologic, cardiac and neurologic issues.

Most tick bites (unrelated to the presence of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease) will cause a local reaction from the tick’s attachment and secretions. If this rash starts to expand on a daily basis to the size of a half-dollar or larger, and particularly if the center of the rash clears (leaving a target appearance), your doctor will assume you have contracted Lyme disease and put you on doxycycline or amoxicillin. If the rash does not expand, then there is no concern that this is Lyme.

For most people, the tick bite tends to itch and feel firm when you touch it. It is not unusual for the area to be the size of a dime to a quarter. It’s okay to place a little topical over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream on the area two or three times per day.

Finally, anyone living in a tick-infested area or with a history of a tick bite who gets flu-like symptoms from April to October (this is not a time when viral influenza is prevalent) should be evaluated for Lyme disease.

Spraying the perimeter of your house may be helpful in reducing the total tick population around your home. Alternatively, you can use perimeter mouse feeders that coat the mice with a tickicide, as the mice go through the bait house. Once the mice go back to their nest, they share the tickicide with the other mice — and thus the population of ticks is reduced. However, the best strategy is active self-inspection after possible exposure.

Take steps to protect against tick bites

Taking steps to protect yourself and your family from getting a tick bite is the best defense against tickborne diseases. The CDC recommends that people:

  • Avoid areas with high grass and leaf litter and walk in the center of trails when hiking.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone. EPA’s search toolExternal can help you find the product that best suits your needs. Always follow product instructions.
  • Use products that contain permethrin to treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks, and tents or look for clothing pre-treated with permethrin.
  • Treat dogs for ticks. Dogs are very susceptible to tick bites and to some tick-borne diseases. They may also bring ticks into your home. Talk to your veterinarian about the best tick prevention products for your dog.
  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find crawling ticks before they bite you.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon returning from tick-infested areas. Parents should help children check thoroughly for ticks. Remove any ticks right away.
  • Put dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks after you come indoors. If the clothes are damp, dry thoroughly and then tumble dry on high for 10 more minutes.

Here is some more information that may be helpful:

Dr. Aucott (Director of the Lyme Center of Johns Hopkins) and yours truly, All About Lyme Disease (12 minute video)

And here is some information about ticks and Lyme in Maryland.

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