Friday, March 23, 2012

Lyme Disease Prevention

Since I promote outdoor activities so heavily, I also like to stop now and then to remind folks of some basic heath and safety issues.

Today, a reminder to take precautions against insect-borne diseases. This time of year, in my neck of the woods, the most pressing concern is Lyme disease, which is carried by deer ticks. Experts warn that this year (in the northeastern part of the U.S.) could be a particularly bad year for the disease. The reason: a bumper crop of acorns lead to an overabundance of a particular kind of mouse that is a deer tick host.

The best way to prevent the disease is to take precautions. Wear light-colored long pants and long-sleeved shirts. If possible, tuck your pants into light colored socks. Then spray your clothes with bug spray. (Follow directions on the package). When you return indoors, remove your clothes and check your body for ticks. It's always wise to enlist a family member to help check places you can't easily see such as behind your knees. Deer tick nymphs are really small (like the size of a poppy seed) so check carefully. If you have dark skin, sweeping a flashlight across your skin, CSI style, may help.

I'm not a medical person, so ALWAYS listen to your own doctor, but here are some facts from my kids' Pediatrician:

  1. A deer tick needs to be embedded in your skin for a minimum of 36 hours (probably more like 48 hours) for you to get the disease from an INFECTED tick.
  2. Obviously, not all ticks are infected. 
  3. So... if you find one on you or your kids, don't panic. 
  4. If the tick is "free," simply remove it and flush it.
  5. It the tick is "in," you need to remove it carefully without leaving the head inside. The method that works best for us is one I learned from my child's pediatrician, but again, ask your doctor for advice. Using a wet, soapy cotton ball, make small counterclockwise circles over the tick without lifting the cotton ball. It can take a few minutes, but the tick will come out. Flush it down the toilet. 
  6. Clean the site, then apply antibiotic ointment and a bandage.
  7. If the tick is in a tricky place, such as the ear, having a doctor remove it may be advisable. Check with your doctor.
Please don't let fear of ticks keep you indoors. With these precautions, the risk of infection is minimal. 

In other parts of the world, different diseases and insects are of concern. Learn how to stay safe in your part of the world.

How do you protect your family from insect-borne diseases?

Related Posts:
Mystery Rash (Poison Ivy)
Insect Safety (This post, written last year, goes into more detail and provides links to more info).


  1. It is summer time and that means walks in the woods, camping and all those glorious trips on nature trails enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. However, lurking in some areas there lies a nasty tick that can cause both humans and animals an opportunity to become very ill.

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    1. True enough- many more people venture into the woods during the summer months. You should also know that ticks can be out all year round if it's a mild winter. They can also be in city parks, so always take precautions.