by Heather Jones
Ticks! Just the word sends shivers through the spines of people everywhere. With tick-borne diseases on the rise, you might wonder what you can do to prevent the bite before it happens. Thankfully, there are precautions you can take to make sure you and your family stay tick-free.
Know Your Surroundings
“Blacklegged ticks (one of the biggest offenders for disease transmission) like wooded/brushy areas,” says Dr. Curtis Russell, senior program specialist at Public Health Ontario.
But that doesn’t mean you should only worry in the great outdoors. Ticks can also be found closer to home—in parks and yards.
It’s important to remember that the little creepy crawlies may be difficult to see, so don’t rely on sight alone. Some are as small as a poppy seed, according to Dr. Russell.
Dr. Russell recommends wearing light-colored clothing, tucking your pant legs into your socks and wearing long sleeves when you can. He also suggests changing and washing your clothes (or putting them in the dryer for 60 minutes) and showering as soon as you get home.
If you plan to spend a lot of time in tick-infested areas, Pennsylvania emergency pediatric physician Dr. Owusu-Ansah recommends treating clothes and equipment such as boots and tents with permethrin (0.5%).
Spray Spray Spray!
Not all bug repellent is created equal. When it comes to ticks, skip the homemade remedies and essential oils, they usually aren’t effective enough to keep ticks at bay. Dr. Owusu-Ansah says to choose repellent that contains 20% or more of DEET, picaridin/icaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin. Picaridin/icaridin is a great, long-lasting option for kids, but is not waterproof so reapply after swimming or heavy sweating.
Before and after showering, do a tick check, “especially under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and on the hairline and scalp,” says Dr. Owusu-Ansah. Check kids thoroughly, and get a second pair of eyes for yourself if you can.
It’s also a good idea to check your pets and ask your vet how to prevent ticks from biting your furry friends or being carried into the house on them, says Florida International University infectious diseases professor Dr. Aileen M. Marty.
Even with prevention, a bite may still occur—but don’t panic! Dr. Russell has good news. “If a tick is attached, it takes at least 24 hours for a blacklegged tick (if it is infected with the Lyme disease-causing bacteria) to transmit the bacteria to you.”
Prompt and proper removal of a tick can prevent disease or infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following for safely removing a tick.
Grasp the tick with fine-tipped tweezers as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
Pull upward with steady, even pressure, being careful not to twist or jerk.
Once the tick is removed, thoroughly clean both the area and your hands with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.
Do not crush the tick. Dispose of the tick by placing it in rubbing alcohol, by sealing it in a bag or container, wrapping it in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.
Dr. Owusu-Ansah stresses to never put something on the skin such as nail polish, petroleum jelly or heat to detach the tick, which could cause the tick to empty bacteria into the skin.
If a bite does happen, watch for symptoms of illness and see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment (usually antibiotics, such as Doxycycline, according to Dr. Owusu-Ansah).
Happy (tick-free) trails!
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