Lyme Disease

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The way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid deer ticks. If you're walking in tick-infested areas, stay in the center of trails to avoid picking up ticks from overhanging grass and brush. You can also minimize skin exposure to ticks by wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts that fit tightly at the ankles and wrists. As further safeguards, wear a hat, tuck pant legs into socks, and wear shoes that leave no part of the feet exposed. Light-colored clothing can help you detect dark-colored ticks.

To repel ticks, you can spray your clothes with the insecticide permethrin, which is commonly found in lawn and garden stores. Insect repellents that contain a chemical called DEET can be applied to clothes or directly onto skin. Although highly effective, these repellents could be toxic, particularly when used repeatedly on the skin. Infants and children might be especially at risk for adverse reactions to DEET, so consult a pediatrician before applying.

You should always check for ticks after outdoor activity, such as a hike, in an area "at risk." Look for new freckles, since they could be deer ticks. Scrubbing off in the shower with a washcloth can also help dislodge some ticks. To remove ticks from your clothes, simply put them in the dryer for 15 minutes.

Ticks do not transfer infection immediately upon attachment. In fact, infection has been shown not to occur for 24 hours. Newly attached ticks can be easily removed before they transmit the infection.

The best way to remove a tick from your skin is by doing the following:

  • Tug gently but firmly with blunt tweezers near the "head" of the tick until it releases its hold on the skin.
  • To lessen the chance of contact with the bacterium, avoid crushing the tick's body or handling the tick with bare fingers.
  • Swab the bite area thoroughly with an antiseptic to prevent bacterial infection.
  • Do not use kerosene, petroleum jelly, or a cigarette butt.
  • Do not squeeze the tick's body with your fingers or tweezers.

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Creating a tick-safe zone

You can use landscaping techniques to create a zone free of ticks around your home. Deer ticks thrive in humid wooded areas, not in sunny and dry environments.

Here are some simple landscaping techniques:

  • Place wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to restrict tick migration.
  • Mow the lawn and clear brush and leaf litter frequently.
  • Keep the ground under bird feeders clean.
  • Stack wood neatly and in dry areas.
  • Keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees.

Testing Ticks

Once a tick is removed, people might wonder if they need to have it tested for Lyme disease. In general, identifying and testing individual ticks is not useful for deciding if someone should get antibiotics following a tick bite. Nevertheless, some state or local health departments offer tick identification and testing as a community service or for research purposes. Check with your health department; the phone number is usually found in the government pages of the telephone book.

Last reviewed on 10/03/2007

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