Summer School: How to Avoid and Treat Tick Bites

Tick sitting on a leaf.

Summertime in Northeast brings green pastures, tall grass, warm weather and, unfortunately, ticks. We see the most tick-borne diseases in May, June and July, but the season really lasts all the way into fall. Now is the time to take extra precautions to prevent those tick bites. Here is how to avoid and treat ticks:

  1. Watch out for ticks during the warmer months: May, June, and July. However, ticks are around all year long seeking a host any time the temperature is above freezing.
  2. Ticks live in grassy, brushy or wooded areas and they also can live on pets. Ticks can jump on your pet, who then brings them inside your home; from there they can crawl around wherever they please.
  3. Treat your clothing and gear with Permethrin 0.5% spray (available online or at your local outdoor gear store) to provide protection through several washings. You can also try pre-treated clothing like “No Fly Zone” from L.L. Bean.
  4. Wear light colors, long sleeves and pants with socks tucked into your boots. Light colors makes it easier to see the ticks on your clothing.
  5. Use a tick repellent such as:
    1. DEET. Pick a product with 10-35% DEET.
    2. Picaridin – a plant-derived compound that is effective against mosquitoes and ticks, often found in Cutter brand repellent.
    3. IR3535 – the chemical found in Skin So Soft repellent.
    4. Oil of lemon eucalyptus.
    5. PMD – a plant-derived ingredient and the active ingredient in oil of lemon eucalyptus. PMD has been listed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as effective against mosquitoes and other insects.

When choosing a tick repellent, you want to make sure not to use repellents on babies younger than two months old, and you shouldn’t use the oil of lemon eucalyptus or PMD on children under three years old.

  1. Ticks can be really small - the size of a poppy seed. As they engorge with blood they get bigger so you do need to check regularly.
  2. Check yourself and your pets every day for a little black or dark brown spot that doesn’t come off easily. Check in the warm areas of your body: under your armpits, behind the ears, in and around the hair, around the waist, in your navel, behind the knees, between your toes.
  3. Remove your clothing and put it in the dryer, on high, for 10 minutes after a hike or walk in tick habitats. If they need to be washed, use hot water to kill the ticks.

How to Reduce Ticks in Your Yard

  1. Remove leaf litter and clear tall grasses and brush around your home and the edges of your lawn.
  2. Place a three-foot-wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to restrict tick migration into your recreational areas.
  3. Mow your lawn frequently, and keep it short.
  4. Stack your wood neatly in a dry area.
  5. Playground equipment, decks and patios should be located away from yard edges and trees.
  6. Discourage unwelcome animals such as deer, raccoons and stray dogs from entering your yard by using fencing.
  7. Remove old furniture, mattresses and trash from the yard; it gives ticks a place to hide.

How to Remove a Tick

  1. Remove ticks with tweezers, not your fingers. Ticks can be infected with bacteria stored in their mid-gut; don’t squeeze it out onto your skin. Pull the tick straight up and out with continuous force. Don’t twist it or turn it because you don’t want any parts to squeeze out. If there’s any part of the tick left behind, your skin will extrude it like a splinter.
  2. Remove the tick as soon as possible. The longer the tick is on you, the greater the risk of contracting a bacterial infection.
  3. Dispose of a tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag or container and wrapping it tightly in tape. Or just flush it down the toilet.
  4. Disinfect the spot it bit you with soap and water or clean it with alcohol; apply an anti-bacterial topical.

Signs of Lyme Disease

Within the first three days you might have a red, patchy rash, or one that looks like a bull’s eye, with a central reddened area surrounded by a clear area, and then a more expansive reddened area. The rash can occur anywhere between three and 33 days.

You can also develop flu-like symptoms such as headache, aches and pains, muscle aches, joint pain, fevers and chills. Watch for these symptoms for several weeks after a tick bite.

It’s important to check regularly for ticks. If you’ve been checking regularly and find one attached, then it’s likely it’s been there for less than 36 hours. If there’s a possibility it’s been there longer, seek treatment with your primary care physician.

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