Bambi (deer), Thumper (rabbit), and his fellow terrorists (skunks, squirrels, birds etc.) are loveable and cute, but they’re also masters of biological warfare! While we fawn all over them, they deliver their payloads of disease-laden ticks to our backyards, parks, trails, and campgrounds.
In the US alone, ticks infect an estimated 300,000 people with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) each year. Lyme disease is currently on the rise (up 12% between 2012 and 2013 in Massachusetts)… and the worst thing about it? It’s targeting our poor, defenseless children!
Since June and July are the months that most people get infected with Lyme disease we need to learn how to protect ourselves, and our children, from this menace right now!
Let’s start with some simple guidelines from the CDC:
- Wear Repellent!
- 20% Deet on exposed skin and clothing is effective at repelling ticks
- Use permethrin treated clothing, outdoor gear, and boots. Permethrin kills ticks on contact, lasts through multiple machine washes, and is poorly absorbed through human skin!
- Wear socks, long-sleeved shirts, and long-pants; also wear light-colored clothing, which makes it easier to see ticks and brush them off!
- Check for ticks daily!
- A tick typically is attached for 36-48 hrs before it transmits Lyme to it’s host… get them off before they infect you!!
- Although ticks can bite anywhere, their favorite spots are: the head and neck (~50% of bites in children and 4% in adults), legs (50% in adults), torso (22% in adults), arms (18% in adults), and genitalia (6% in adults, but even higher in men… check your junk for the funk!).
- Shower after outdoor activities!
- Shower within 2 hrs of outdoor activities: ticks usually roam around for a couple of hours before settling in and attaching to a tasty bit of thin skin… Wash them off before they even attach!
- Wash & tumble dry clothes on high for ~1hr when you get home to kill remaining ticks.
- Call your doctor if you get a fever or rash!
- ~3-30 days after being bitten by infected ticks 80% of adults and 60% of children develop a rash. The Lyme rash (erythema migrans) is typically red and expands to >2 inches in diameter (5 cm), frequently clearing in the center giving it the Bull’s eye appearance.
- ~4-60 days later: the Lyme spirochetes invade systemically and cause flu-like symptoms. They may also cause: multiple bull’s eye rashes in remote locations, arthritis in the large joints (Lyme arthritis), cardiac issues (Lyme carditis, which is 3x more likely in men than women), and brain issues (Neuroborreliosis, Lyme meningitis, Lyme encephalitis, and Lyme palsy).
Remember that Bambi and his terrorist friends don’t just hang out in the woods, they also hang out in your backyard! Ticks love moist areas, leaf litter, tall grasses, and brush…
- Have you done your yard-work? Reduce your chances of Lyme infection by 50-90% by removing leaf litter, tall grasses, and brush from around the edges of your lawn! Create a tick-free zone around your yard and suburban parks:
- Mow your lawn regularly and remove tall weeds… I hate the idea, but another option is to apply pesticides to your yard 2x a year, which reduces Lyme infection by 68-100%
- Lay down a three foot wide barrier of wood chips/gravel between your lawn and the woods to restrict tick migration. Consider fencing in your yard to keep out deer, raccoons, and other Lyme disease carriers.
- Keep activities away from lawn edges and overhanging trees
- Are you attracting birds to your yard? Keep your birdseed off of the ground! Ground-feeding birds (robins, grackles etc) are major carriers of Lyme disease… so are the pesky mice and squirrels that go after your seed!
- Is your garbage covered and inaccessible? The critters that get into your gargbage (Mice, squirrels, skunks, rabbits, and raccoons) carry Lyme disease! Mice are an especially big problem: the white-footed mouse is one of the biggest carriers of Lyme disease (common in small patches of woods, 5 acres or less) !
- Do you have pets? Dogs love to romp in the woods and tall grasses where they fetch ticks and bring them right back to you! Check your dogs for ticks before letting them into your house, your tent, or the shelters on the AT… Talk to your vet about tick prevention treatments like Frontline. Note: Dispose of ticks properly! If you toss them onto the ground they’ll just grab onto you the next time you walk by… I see this all of the time and it makes me very grumpy!
- Are you hiking in the middle of the trail? Hike in the middle of the trail and avoid tall grass, leaf litter, and brushy areas whenever possible… No matter how beautiful the wild meadow looks, don’t drop yourself, your pack, or your tent in the middle of it… Ticks love wild meadows and will happily catch a free ride from your pack to you! Know before you go: the Appalachian Trail goes through 12 of the 14 states responsible for 96% of all Lyme cases in the US!
Please join me in raising awareness about ticks and Lyme disease by sharing this post and your comments about Lyme disease below. Stay tuned for my next post, which will also be about ticks and Lyme disease!
Disclaimer: I am not an MD or public health official. I am a scientist and an outdoor enthusiast with a passion for research… After discovering that ~5% of my friends (see my upcoming post) have had Lyme, I decided to do some research about it and share my findings here. Talk to your doctor if you have health related questions!