6 Ways to Prevent Lyme Disease
Discourage disease-carrying deer ticks with these six research-proven steps
Lyme disease is showing up in almost every state in the nation now, with an estimated 300,000 new cases per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That's 10 times more cases than just three years ago, the CDC estimates.
Lyme disease symptoms, including fever, muscle and joint aches and fatigue, can range from bothersome to downright debilitating, so preventing the disease is key, especially if you live where deer ticks thrive.
The epicenter of Lyme disease is still the Northeast and Upper Midwest, home to the deer tick that carries the bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) that causes the illness. Some 96 percent of cases occur in those states — but the disease is making surprising advances in other states, including California, Florida, Ohio, Texas and Virginia. Scientists think Lyme disease may be spreading partly due to the upsurge in coyotes, which prey on the red foxes that normally control mice that carry Lyme. Lyme disease is also pushing northward into Canada as the ticks ride across the border on their preferred wild hosts: mice and deer.
Whether or not you live in a Lyme hotspot, the latest research shows your best defense against Lyme and a host of other tick-borne illnesses is to keep ticks from biting you in the first place, and acting fast if one does. Follow these six steps.
1. Know when ticks are biting. As tick populations rise through the spring and summer, the risk for Lyme disease infection jumps and stays high through the early fall, according to the CDC. That’s when the young ticks that transmit the disease are most active.
Related: How to Keep an Outdoor Cat Safe
2. Know where ticks hang out. They don’t drop from trees. Ticks cling to grasses, weeds, bushes and low tree branches, looking for an opportunity to jump onto a warm-blooded host. Avoid high grass and bushy areas as much as possible, walk in the middle of trails and mow the grass and clear brush in your backyard to create “tick-safe” zones. And when walking, hiking or working outside, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, and tuck your pants into your socks to make it still harder for ticks to get to your skin.
3. Heading outdoors? Use both DEET and permethrin. The latest research suggests that two tick repellents work better than one to keep deer ticks off you and your kids and pets. The CDC advises using insect repellent that contains DEET and also treating your clothes, socks and shoes with permethrin. Recent studies show that permethrin is extremely effective and kills most ticks on contact. In a 2011 University of Rhode Island study, disease-free ticks were released on the shoes, legs and arms of 15 brave volunteers. After 2 ½ hours, researchers checked their skin for ticks and tick bites. Compared to people wearing untreated clothing, those whose socks and shoes were treated with permethrin were 73 times less likely to have tick bites; those with treated tee shirts and shorts were two to four times less likely to have tick bites. Follow the label directions carefully when using and reapplying any insect repellent.
4. Change your clothes, do a tick check and take a shower after being outside. In a Western Connecticut State University study, doing a tick check after being outdoors lowered the odds of developing Lyme disease 45 percent. Bathing within two hours of being outdoors cut the risk 58 percent — most likely because it gives you the chance to notice and remove ticks pronto. Check your pets, too. Dogs are very susceptible to tick-borne illnesses. You can also get your pooch vaccinated against Lyme disease.
5. Use tick-control products on pets who venture outdoors. Keeping ticks off cats and dogs protects your four-legged friends, and it also stops ticks from hitch-hiking indoors on their fur. Use products formulated for your pet and always follow the directions carefully.
6. If you find a tick, remove it promptly. The CDC recommends using fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick close to the skin's surface. Pull upward with steady pressure. Clean the area thoroughly afterward with soap and water, rubbing alcohol or an iodine scrub. Get rid of a live tick by flushing it down the toilet or putting in a sealable plastic bag, submersing it in alcohol or wrapping it tightly with tape. Some experts recommend keeping the tick; it may help your doctor make a diagnosis or rule out Lyme disease because only one tick species carries the disease.