How to Protect Yourself from Tick Bites and Lyme Disease
When it comes to ticks, hunters are actually the hunted.
Hunters, hikers and others who spend time outdoors in wooded or bushy areas and meadows may be at risk for tick bites. And those bites can lead to Lyme disease .
Ticks also like the transition areas between wooded and grassy areas, including lawns. The ticks climb up to the end of a grass leaf and wait for an animal or human host to walk by so that they can latch onto their foot or leg.
How to know if you’ve been bitten
According to dermatologist John Anthony, MD. the most common first sign of the disease is a red rash spreading out from what feels or looks like an insect bite.
Some people with such rashes will end up having other types of insect bites, infections or inflammations. But Dr. Anthony cautions that a large, spreading rash is the first sign of Lyme disease in roughly three-quarters of patients.
Should you get a growing rash, see your doctor immediately, Dr. Anthony says. That way, the disease can be treated before it moves into the later, more serious stages that can lead to neurological damage and arthritis.
Steps you should take to protect yourself
For outdoor enthusiasts who may be in tick-infested areas, Dr. Anthony recommends several steps to protect yourself:
- Never wear shorts in these areas.
- Wear boots and long socks, and tuck your trouser legs into your socks to block ticks from climbing up inside your pants.
- Put a DEET-containing insect repellent on any exposed skin. “Some people have concerns about using DEET, but it doesn’t have to be the 100 percent DEET components,” Dr. Anthony explains. “There are some
long-acting, lower concentration versions that are very effective.”
- Spray a permethrin-based repellent onto your clothing to keep ticks from attaching. That will last through several washings for probably up to a month.
- If your lawn abuts a wooded area, install a mulch or gravel break between the two areas, so that the ticks can’t travel to your grass.
- Do routine tick checks of your body. “Regular checks of your skin to look for ticks can limit your risk of Lyme disease substantially,” Dr. Anthony says. He adds that the ticks typically have to be attached for 48 to 72 hours before there is a risk of getting Lyme disease. So do the tick check as soon as you come inside. Just washing your clothes won’t help remove the ticks, either. They need to be machine dried to kill the insects.
What to do if you find a tick
If you do find a tick on your skin, the best way to remove it is to take a pair of fine tweezers, grasp the head part of the tick right at the surface of your skin, and slowly and steadily withdraw it with a constant motion. Do not turn, twist or try to crush it.
To be safe, keep a pair of tweezers in your first aid kit when you’re outside.
“Some people have recommended using lit cigarettes or Vaseline or other methods, but they are less effective than just manually removing the tick,” says Dr. Anthony.
“Studies show that you are more likely to increase expression of the tick’s saliva and the contents of their stomachs, which increases the chances of disease transmission,” he says.
Armed with these tips, hunters can enjoy doing what they like to do — with less worry about tick bites and Lyme disease.