Lyme Disease (cont.)
Lyme disease can be prevented. If you visit or live in an area where it frequently occurs, you can greatly lower your risk of getting Lyme disease by taking steps to avoid tick bites and checking for and promptly removing ticks from your body and clothing. Quickly removing attached ticks is especially important if you are pregnant or nursing because the effects of Lyme disease on a fetus are not fully understood. But a pregnant woman can be assured that with proper treatment of Lyme disease, there is very little risk of harm to the baby.
If you or someone in your family has been exposed to ticks, watch carefully for symptoms of Lyme disease (such as flu-like symptoms or a circular red rash), and contact your doctor right away if symptoms appear. If you find a tick attached to your body and think the tick has been there longer than 24 hours, ask your doctor whether a single dose of antibiotics could help prevent Lyme disease from developing.
Even after successful treatment for Lyme disease, you can get it again. So it is important to continue to protect yourself against tick bites.
How to avoid tick bites
- Learn where ticks and deer that carry ticks are most commonly found in your community, and avoid those areas if possible.
- Cover as much of your body as possible when working or playing in grassy or wooded areas. Wear a hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants with the legs tucked into your socks. Keep in mind that it is easier to spot ticks on light-colored clothes.
- Use insect repellents, such as products with DEET, that are effective against ticks and can be sprayed directly on your skin. Remember that higher concentrations of DEET are not recommended for infants and small children. Insect repellents containing permethrin, a strong chemical that kills ticks on contact, can be put on clothes, especially pants, socks, and shoes. But avoid putting products containing permethrin directly on your skin.
- Take steps to control ticks on your property if you live in an area where Lyme disease is prevalent. Clearing leaves, brush, tall grasses, woodpiles, and stone fences from around your house and the edges of your yard or garden may help reduce the tick population and the rodent population that the ticks depend on. Remove plants that attract deer, and use barriers to keep deer—and the deer ticks they may carry—out of your yard. Treating yards with chemicals that kill ticks (ascaricides) is sometimes effective but exposes you and your pets to chemicals that may not be safe. You may choose to treat your lawn for ticks with nonchemical or environmentally safe methods instead. Call your local landscaping nursery or county extension office for more information.
Checking for ticks
- When you come in from outdoors, check all over your body for ticks, including your groin, head, and underarms. If no one else can help you check for ticks on your scalp, comb your hair with a fine-toothed comb. This should remove most ticks that are present. Don't forget to check for ticks on any gear you had with you in the woods.
- If you think you may have ticks on your clothes, you can tumble them in a dryer or hang them out in the sun for 15 minutes. The heat will dry out any ticks and kill them.
- At the end of the day, take a shower and use a washcloth to clean your body. This will knock off any ticks that are loosely attached to your body. Remember, it takes about 24 hours for a tick to attach itself to the skin.
- If you live in an area where Lyme disease is prevalent, check your children daily for ticks, especially during the summer months.
- Check your pets for ticks after they've been outdoors. Not only can your pet get Lyme disease, but it can carry infected ticks indoors where the ticks might fall off your pet and attach to you.
- When hiking in the woods, carry a small dry jar or ziplock bag. If you find a tick on your body, properly remove the tick and put it in the jar or bag. Store the container in the freezer so you can give it to your doctor if symptoms develop. The tick can be tested to learn whether it is carrying the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.
- Use fine-point tweezers to remove the tick. Grasp the tick as close to its mouth (the part that is embedded in your skin) as possible.
- Slowly pull the tick straight out (don't twist or yank) until its mouth is released from your skin.
- Avoid pushing on or squeezing the tick's swollen abdomen. Squeezing it can push bacteria into your body.
- If the tick breaks and part of it stays under your skin, do not try to remove the rest of it by digging under the skin. This just causes more skin damage. If you leave it alone, it will be expelled naturally in a few weeks.
- Use soap and water to wash the area where the tick was attached.
- Do not try to suffocate the tick with petroleum jelly, nail polish, or rubbing alcohol. This may increase your risk of infection.
- Do not try to burn the tick with a cigarette or match while the tick is attached to your skin.
- Watch for signs of infection, such as an expanding red rash and flu-like symptoms. Keep in mind that most tick bites do not lead to infection—deer ticks usually have to feed for at least 36 hours before they can pass on bacteria that cause Lyme disease.
Vaccine for Lyme disease
A vaccine was developed for use in high-risk areas, but it is no longer available. It was removed from the market because of uncertainty over its effectiveness and lack of demand.