Preventing Lyme Disease: Tips and Info for the Whole Family

lymeThe warmer weather has literally JUST started but already I have heard of people reporting finding ticks on themselves after being outside, and I can't stress enough how important it is to protect you and your family from ticks and Lyme Disease. First, some facts... Lyme Disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks and typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans (the "bulls-eye rash"). However, a rash does not always present itself at the site of the tick bite, and fewer than 50% of patients ever recall a tick attachment. Furthermore, a rash may form on the scalp under hair, or the rash may come and go. Do not always count on there being a "bulls eye rash" in order to suspect Lyme. Lyme Disease symptoms may appear within days, weeks, months or even years after the initial infection. In most cases, if caught in the early stages, Lyme Disease can be treated successfully with a 4-6 week course of antibiotics, but it can be debilitating if not treated early and thoroughly. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.

Saratoga County is considered to be endemic (growing or existing in a certain place or region) for Lyme Disease, and according to this piece by the Boston Globe, "new estimates indicate that Lyme disease is 10 times more common than previous national counts showed, the federal government announced Monday, with about 300,000 people getting the disease each year — most in the Northeast." It is growing at a rate four times faster than HIV/AIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It can impact any individual of any age group, but the rate of infection is highest among children, ages 5 – 14.

Last spring on one of our first walks in the woods Finn got three ticks on him, two on his face (with one heading toward his hairline) and one on his shirt, which I spotted because they were moving and because he was wearing light colored clothing. But ticks aren't just in the woods, they can also be picked up from simply playing outside. Keep in mind that not all deer ticks are infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, only the infected ones. Furthermore, a tick that is infected has to be attached to a person's skin for at least 24-48 hours before it can transmit that bacteria.

If you find a tick on your child (or yourself) and you do not know how long the tick was attached, watch for signs or symptoms they might be developing the illness. Click here for a list on signs and symptoms to watch for with Lyme Disease.

Sounds scary? It is. But it shouldn't keep you and your family from being outdoors. Being aware and taking preventative measures can help protect your family from ticks and Lyme Disease, here are some tips to keep in mind as the weather warms up:

  • The biggest tip? Perform daily tick checks after being outdoors, even in your own backyard. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body and remove any tick you find (click here for tips on how to safely remove ticks). 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
  • If you are going to be in areas that are tick infested, wear light-colored clothing so that ticks can be spotted more easily and removed before becoming attached. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and tucking pants into socks or boot tops may help keep ticks from reaching your skin. Ticks are usually located close to the ground, so wearing high rubber boots may provide additional protection. If you're in tick-infested areas, walk in the center of trails to avoid overgrown grass and leaf litter.
  • You can also use an insect repellents containing DEET (n,n-diethyl-m toluamide) to clothes and exposed skin. When returning home immediately throw clothing in the washer and dryer to kill any ticks that may be on your clothes.
  • There are some all natural alternatives to DEET repellents (ed note: I haven't used these in the past but will try a few all natural ones this spring). Rose Geranium has been touted as an extremely potent repellent for ticks, and the following blend can be used as a tick repellent for both you (and your dog!): Take 20 drops of Rose Geranium Oil, 3 drops of Citronella Oil and Bay Leaf Tincture and add it to 10 ounces of water. Spray this on your dog, your clothes, and exposed areas.

Most of all, be vigilant. Perform those tick checks and be thorough. The majority of infections occur between May and August when ticks are most active, but as long as the temperature is above or near freezing, ticks remain active and are a threat.