Over 25,000 cases of Lyme disease among Americans will be reported this year. The risk is greatest among those living in or visiting New England, the mid-Atlantic states, and the upper Midwest. A recent national survey found that nearly 20 percent of people in areas where Lyme disease is common were unaware of the danger. Fortunately, there are several tactics you and your family can use to prevent tick bites and reduce your risk of tickborne disease.
Protect Yourself from Tick Bites
Know where to expect ticks. Blacklegged ticks live in moist and humid environments, particularly in or near wooded or grassy areas. You may come into contact with ticks during outdoor activities around your home or when walking through vegetation such as leaf litter or shrubs. To avoid ticks, walk in the center of trails and avoid tall vegetation.
Use a repellent with DEET (on skin or clothing) or permethrin (on clothing and gear). Repellents containing 20% or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) can be applied to the skin, and they can protect up to several hours. Always follow product instructions! Parents should apply repellents to their children, taking care to avoid application to hands, eyes, and mouth. Products containing permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing, and camping gear. Treated items can remain protective through several washings.
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. Take special care to check these parts of your body and your child's body for ticks:
- Under the arms
- In and around the ears
- Inside the belly button
- Back of the knees
- In and around all head and body hair
- Between the legs
- Around the waist
Check your clothing and pets for ticks because 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.
Remove Attached Ticks Quickly and Correctly
Remove an attached tick using fine-tipped tweezers as soon as you notice it. If a tick is attached to your skin for less than 24 hours, your chance of getting Lyme disease is extremely small; however, other diseases may be transmitted more quickly.
Be Alert for Fever or Rash
Even if you don't remember being bitten by a tick, an unexpected summer fever or odd rash may be the first signs of a tickborne disease, particularly if you've been in tick habitat. See your health care provider if these symptoms develop.
Prevent Ticks on Animals
Prevent family pets from bringing ticks into the home by limiting their access to tick-infested areas and by using veterinarian-prescribed tick collars or spot-on treatment.
Create Tick-Safe Zones in Your Yard
Modify your landscaping to create "Tick-Safe Zones." It's pretty simple. Keep patios, play areas, and playground equipment away from shrubs, bushes, and other vegetation. Regularly remove leaf litter, clear tall grasses and brush around your home, and place wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to keep ticks away from recreational areas (and away from you).
- Use a chemical control agent. Effective tick control chemicals are available for use by the homeowner, or they can be applied by a professional pest control expert.
- Discourage deer. Deer are the main food source for adult ticks. Keep deer away from your home by removing plants that attract deer and by constructing physical barriers that may discourage deer from entering your yard and bringing ticks with them.