Tick and Lyme disease season has arrived, and scientists are saying that this year it could be worse than ever.
A bumper crop of acorns in 2015 led to a a population boom of white-footed mice in 2016, which could make 2017 the Year of the Tick. The mice love nibbling acorns, and disease-causing ticks love nibbling the mice. When they sip mice blood, ticks can pick up bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 95% of confirmed Lyme disease cases in 2015 came from 14 states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Do you have to worry about ticks if you live outside of those 14 states? Yes. Ticks are everywhere, and they spread disease. For example, the “lone star tick,” primarily found in the southeastern and eastern United States, does not transmit Lyme disease but can spread human ehrlichiosis, tularemia, and Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI).
Ticks are more active in the warmer months (April-September in most parts of the country), but it’s a good idea to protect yourself against them year round.
When you’re outside, try to avoid trekking through wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. Walk in the center of trails, when possible.
The CDC suggests using repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth. You may wish to check with your pediatrician first, if your child has allergies or medical conditions such as asthma.
Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5% permethrin. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available.
If you have a backyard, you’ll want to check out these tips for making it a tick-hostile zone.
The CDC recommends that you:
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off any ticks that may be crawling on you.
- If you’ve been in a tick infected area, conduct a full-body tick check when you get home. 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.
- You can tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed. The clothes should be warm and completely dry before you remove them from the dryer.
- Protect your pets. Dogs are very susceptible to tick bites and tickborne diseases. Check your pets for ticks daily, especially after they spend time outdoors. If you find a tick, remove it right away. And talk to your veterinarian about tickborne diseases in your area.
Don’t panic if you find a tick attached to your skin. But your goal is to remove that tick as quickly as possible. Ticks must be attached to a human for about 36 to 48 hours before the Lyme bacteria can be transmitted.
Don’t paint the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Just use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Then pull upward with steady, even pressure. Here’s a video that shows you how to do it.
Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, the CDC’s advice is to “leave it alone and let the skin heal.”
After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water. Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
If you develop a rash, fever or muscle aches within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor. The International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society recommends that, if you live in an endemic area for Lyme disease, then you should consider seeing your doctor after a tick bite even if you don’t experience symptoms. Because a high percentage of ticks are infected, you may also wish to talk to your doctor about starting early treatment.