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Prevent tick-borne illnesses with a few simple precautions

Blacklegged, or "Deer" ticks live on animals other than deer.  Its size makes it extremely difficult to detect on the body, so frequent and regular tick checks are necessary.
Blacklegged, or "Deer" ticks live on animals other than deer. Its size makes it extremely difficult to detect on the body, so frequent and regular tick checks are necessary.
Patricia Sullivan

June is upon us - the height of tick season in New England and other spring-like climates. Chronic diseases such as Lyme, Babesiosis and Erlichiosis are preventable, and protective measures are simple and reasonably affordable.

Do not underestimate the ubiquitous and potentially life-changing, health-sucking tick. One particularly elusive species is nearly impossible to observe casually; the hungry "Deer" or blacklegged tick - approximately the size of a poppy seed - lurks in tall grasses and wooded areas, waiting for a warm body on which to pounce. Ticks may accompany the carrier on shoes, clothing, hats, hair and pets. The tick eventually seeks warmth and moisture, so it's critical to check underarms, groin, the base of the neck and hairline, behind the knees and legs and in elbow creases. The bite of a tick may be undetectable, and may leave no mark after it has settled into the skin. Fact: Many tick-born illness sufferers reported having no knowledge or indication of a tick bite. Once the tick gorges itself on the host's blood, it pops off, so if the host does not discover the tick while it's attached, there may be no sign of it after it's gone.

Itching yet? Good. If you aren't uncomfortable, you aren't paying enough attention. According to the Center for Disease Control, reducing exposure to ticks is the best defense against Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and other tickborne infections. And, while many species of ticks throughout the world do not transmit pathogens, it is prudent to be aware of ticks that live in your area, and what you can do to prevent being bitten.

There is a morass of information and websites detailing much more than you will need to know about tick-born illnesses, so allow me to simplify things for you. The CDC offers a comprehensive guide to avoid tick-born illnesses, including

Avoid ticks by avoiding bushy, wooded or tall-grassed areas; walking in the center of trails; using DEET or Permethrin repellents that contain 20% or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on the exposed skin for protection that lasts up to several hours. (Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth).

Products that contain permethrin should be used on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and remains protective for up to 70 washings.

Other repellents registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may be found at http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect/.

Find and Remove Ticks from Your Body
Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours); conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.

Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.

The Mayo Clinic website offers these additional helpful recommendations to prevent tick bites:

  • Wear light-colored clothing;
  • Avoid open-toed shoes or sandals;
  • Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirt;
  • Tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks;
  • Pull back long hair; ticks may attach to dangling hair and work their way to your neck or scalp. Pulling back long hair helps you see ticks better on your neck and limits the chance of them attaching in the first place.

You've been warned. Now go out there, enjoy the summer and stay healthy!

Click here for the 84-page Tick Management Handbook by Kirby C. Stafford III, Ph.D.
Vice Director, Chief Entomologist Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven, CT

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