Summer’s the season for shorts and bare feet, rambling in the woods and fields. But with the threat of Lyme disease, your wanderings may not be as carefree as in the past. June, July, August, and September are prime times for this disease.
Lyme Disease Basics
Caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, Lyme disease is transferred to humans by deer ticks in many parts of the U.S. These ticks are very tiny and brownish-black. The unfed nymph is about the size of a poppy seed, and the unfed adult female is only 1/8-inch long, making them extremely hard to spot.
While successfully treatable with a few weeks of antibiotics, Lyme disease can lead to serious health problems if left undetected and untreated, affecting joints, the heart, and the nervous system (see Could You Have Lyme Disease?).
Keep ticks away from your home by clearing away leaf litter and brush. Mow the lawn, keeping a wide pathway between areas that your family frequents, such as play equipment and picnic tables, and any surrounding woods or fields that are likely tick habitats. Use fencing or organic repellents to discourage deer from frequenting these areas.
When you encounter tick-friendly environments, wear long pants, long sleeves, and long socks. Tuck your pant legs into your socks, using tape around the socks for extra security. Wear light-colored clothing so you can easily see ticks crawling on your clothes.
When you return home, check your clothing carefully. Use extra scrutiny as you check ticks’ favorite spots—the scalp, behind the ears, the armpits, and the groin area. Don’t forget to check your pets for ticks, as well.
Use Safe, Natural Repellents
Avoid harmful chemicals in well-known repellents DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) and permethrin. Go natural instead.
Oils of citronella, clove, and lily of the valley “possessed repelling activities of the same magnitude as the repellent DEET” against ticks, researchers found.
Rose geranium oil, a popular herbal tick repellent, contains geraniol, found to be more effective than DEET.
An extract of garlic killed 100 percent of ticks within an hour, with effects lasting into the next day.
Tea tree oil kills ticks and “could be extremely useful in controlling” them, researchers say.
Removing a Tick
If you do find a tick attached to your skin, remove it promptly. Use a pair of tweezers, and grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible. Pull steadily, straight out, to extract it. Try not to squash the tick. Do not apply petroleum jelly, alcohol, or heat from a lit match to induce a deer tick to withdraw. All of these actions are ineffective and may actually cause the tick to propel bacteria into the opening of the skin.
Save the tick to assist in diagnosis in case the person to whom it was attached displays symptoms of disease. Watch the area of the bite carefully for the characteristic circular red rash. Fatigue, fever, headaches, stiffness, and pain in muscles and joints are all symptoms of Lyme disease.