Wheres tick woes were once confined to woodsy, Northeastern parts of the country, now everyone has a reason to worry. "Ticks have now been found in all 50 states, as opposed to twenty years ago when ticks were more limited," says Gaspere Geraci, M.D. and Market Chief Medical Officer for AmeriHealth Caritas, a Medicaid managed care organization. "Ticks are primarily a spring and summer problem, but can extend into early autumn. Disease carried by ticks vary, with Lyme for example transmitted by the Blacklegged tick."
Of course, if you find and remove a tick quickly, your risk of getting a tickborne disease is greatly reduced. "In order to catch a disease from a tick, it has to be attached to you for 36 to 48 hours," Dr. Geraci says. "If you find it within a day or so, you will likely be fine." But of course the best course of action to take is to not let the ticks attach in the first place. Here are some steps you can take.
In an ideal world, you'd never cross paths with a tick and avoid deeply wooded areas or tall grass. "The best strategies for preventing tick bites are to stay away from where ticks live, which tends to be in the woods," Dr. Geraci says.
But we live in the real world, and sometimes it's necessary (or fun!) to go in the woods. In those cases, preparation is key. "Dress adults and children in long pants tucked into their socks, long-sleeved shirts, and hats," says Katie Lockwood, M.D., an attending physician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in primary care and adoption medicine. "While on your walk, have children avoid areas where ticks may be more common, such as high grasses, leaf piles, and bushy areas."
Use Insect Repellent
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say it's safe to use products with DEET on kids older than 2 months. "The current AAP and CDC recommendation for children older than 2 months is to use 10% to 30% DEET," Dr. Lockwood says. "However, this should not be used on children younger than 2 months. Use the lowest percent DEET that provides protection for the length of time that you will be exposed to insects. After coming indoors, children should wash off the insect repellant. And avoid using products that combine sunscreen and insect repellant, since the sunscreen needs to be reapplied more often than the insect repellant."
In addition to DEET, Dr. Lockwood says it's also okay to use picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone, "as long as it's an EPA-registered insect repellant," she says. "You don’t want to use any of these on children under 2 months and avoid OLE or PMD on children under 3 years."
You can also treat your clothes or gear 0.5% permethrin, which kills ticks. This is especially useful for clothing that often goes with you to tick-infested areas, like your hiking boots, socks, and pants — even your camping gear. There are services that will treat your items with permethrin for you, and they claim the treatment will last for 70 washes. (You can also buy pre-treated gear.)
Do a Body Scan
Once you return indoors, look for any possible tick bites — and keep in mind that ticks can be as small as a poppy seed. "Daily tick checks need to be performed to remove as soon as possible to find any ticks that attached to body," Jen Trachtenberg, M.D., a spokesperson for the AAP and an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. "You must make sure to really check areas like the nape of the neck, the hairline, behind the ears, in the armpits, and in the groin area." Also be sure to check ankles, which are often exposed, and areas where your clothing is tight, like your waistband.
Speed here is the key: The sooner you get a tick off your body, the less likely you'll be infected. Checking within 36 hours of coming indoors lowers your odds of infection 45%; bathing or showering within two hours — also a good way to find ticks — cuts your risk 58%.
Don't Forget About Your Pets
If you have a pet that runs around outside, that's a good way to bring a tick home. Try to prevent them. You can try to protect them ahead of time: Dogs can get vaccinated for Lyme Disease, for example, or you can use tick-control products, like Advantix or Nexgard. (As always, consult with your vet before you do anything new.) But it's also important to thoroughly check your pets when then come in from outside, too.
What To Do If You've Found a Tick
"Don't panic and don't pick at it, since you want to be sure to remove it in its entirety," Dr. Trachtenberg says. "It's better to wait and get a tweezer rather than trying to squeeze it off with your hands."
You can follow these steps: Using fine-tipped tweezers, grasp it as close as possible to where it's attached on your skin and pull it straight out. Then clean the area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. After removal, you might do another check to make sure you didn't miss any small ticks.
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