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What can you do to prevent tick-borne diseases?

Deer tick are very common in some parts of the United States and can carry Lyme Disease. Southeastern Massachusetts (including Cape Cod) and Connecticut both have high rates of Lyme. It can be difficult to diagnose and very dangerous if untreated. Before boxing in a new area, check with locals to see if it is a problem in that area. Remember that deer tick are very small (they can pass through the eye of a needle) so you likely will never see the tick and will not always see the distinctive bullseye rash. If you have any symptoms, see your doctor and let her/him know that you have been in an area with Lyme. Unless there is frost or snow covering the ground, ticks will be trying to use you as a snack.

This information is from the Center for Disease Control website:

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (e.g., rash), and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks; laboratory testing is helpful in the later stages of disease. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. Steps to prevent Lyme disease include using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, landscaping, and integrated pest management. The ticks that transmit Lyme disease can occasionally transmit other tick-borne diseases as well.

Protect yourself from tick bites
  • Tuck pants into socks to help keep ticks from biting.
  • Avoid tick-infested areas. Many local health departments, parks, and cooperative extension services have information about the areas most infested with ticks. If you are in a tick-infested area, walk in the center of the trails to avoid contact with vegetation.
  • Wear light-colored clothing, which allows you to see ticks that are crawling on your clothing. Tuck your pant legs into your socks so that ticks cannot crawl up inside of your pant legs. Some ticks can crawl down into shoes and are small enough to crawl through most socks. When traveling in areas with lone star ticks (which are associated with Southern tick-associated rash illness, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever) you should examine your feet and ankles to ensure that ticks are not attached.
  • Use chemical repellent with DEET or permethrin and wear protective clothing. Repellents containing permethrin can be sprayed on boots and clothing. When used in this manner, the repellent will be protective for several days. Repellents containing DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) can be applied to the skin, but they protect for only a few hours before reapplication is necessary. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding the hands, eyes, and mouth. An alternative to DEET, picaridin, has recently become available in the United States. Picaridin has limited data published for tick repellency, but it may provide suitable protection.

Perform daily tick checks
  • Check your body for ticks after being outdoors, even in your own yard. Conduct a body check upon return from potentially tick-infested areas by searching your entire body for ticks. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body and remove any tick you find (see the "Safely remove ticks" section below for instructions on removing ticks). Check under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, the back of knees, in and around the hair, between the legs, and around the waist. Check your children for ticks, especially in the hair, when returning from potentially tick-infested areas.
  • Check your clothing and pets for ticks. Ticks may be carried into the house on clothing and pets. Both should be examined carefully, and any ticks that are found should be removed. Placing clothes into a dryer on high heat effectively kills ticks.

Safely remove ticks
Early tick removal may reduce the risk of infection of some tick-borne diseases. Follow the steps below to safely remove ticks from animals and humans:
  1. Use fine-tipped tweezers and protect bare hands with a tissue or gloves to avoid contact with tick fluids.
  2. Grasping tick with tweezers. Grab the tick close to the skin. Do not twist or jerk the tick, as this may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin.
  3. Pulling tick upward with tweezers. Gently pull straight up until all parts of the tick are removed.
  4. After removing the tick, wash your hands with soap and water (or waterless alcohol-based hand rubs when soap is not available). Clean the tick bite with an antiseptic such as iodine scrub, rubbing alcohol, or water containing detergents.

References

http://www.cdc.gov/Features/StopTicks/