Basics – Prevention

Q. How do I prevent Lyme disease?
Q. What should I do if I am bitten by a tick?
Q. What should I do after removing a tick?
Q. How do I prevent Lyme disease?

A. The simple answer is to avoid being bitten by a tick. This isn’t a very practical answer for many people who enjoy working and playing outdoors, and some occupations expose workers to ticks every day. Many Lyme sufferers were bitten in their own yard. But there are some things you can do to reduce your risk.

Ticks are most plentiful in areas where woodlands transition into fields, meadows, or yards. Ticks are often found in tall grass, gardens, or mulch beds. Ticks cannot jump or fly. They are rarely found more than three feet above the ground. Deer paths through the woods are often loaded with ticks. Leaf litter, wood piles, and rock walls are also areas of high tick concentration. Where deer and/or mice are present, ticks are usually abundant.

When you are in such areas, you need to be particularly vigilant to prevent a tick from attaching to your body. There are various insecticides such as permethrin spray for clothing, that may help. Permethrin kills ticks.

You can treat your own clothing with permethrin, which is easy to do and lasts for 6-8 weeks. The clothing can be washed a couple of times before re-treatment is necessary.

Permanently-treated clothing using permethrin is available from several companies and has proven to be very effective. The clothing can be washed at least 70 times and still retain its ability to kill ticks and other insects. It is a very safe compound, originally found in chrysanthemums, that binds with the clothing fabric. It does not work if applied to your skin.

Insect repellents containing DEET are also effective. (On children, for safety, avoid products that contain more than 30% DEET.) Newer products, such as Bio-UD may be safer for children. Light-colored clothing makes it easier to spot ticks. Wearing long pants, and long-sleeved shirts are helpful. Tuck pant legs into socks to make it more difficult for ticks to crawl up your legs. Walk in the center of trails. After any time spent outdoors, check for ticks while you are out and as soon as you get back. Showering is also helpful. Remember that some of the ticks are extremely small and are almost impossible to see. Putting your clothing in a clothes dryer at high heat will kill ticks in about an hour, but ticks can survive on clothes in a washing machine.

There are products that can be used outdoors to kill ticks. For example, Damminix™ consists of cotton balls soaked in permethrin insecticide inside cardboard tubes that you place around your property where you expect mice may live (wood piles, stone walls, etc.). The cotton will be used by mice building their nests. The permethrin in the cotton kills the ticks on the mice with minimal danger to people, pets, or wildlife. Some communities use deer feeders that apply insecticide to the deer as they eat. Tick traps are also commercially available. Some lawn care companies can spray your yard with an EPA-approved acaricide. Even if you rarely go outside, you can still be infected if your pets bring ticks into the house. Veterinarians recommend a product like Preventic™ collars, Frontline™, Top Spot™ and similar products to minimize the risk. (Use of chemicals is a personal decision and we do not make product recommendations.)

Some researchers think that Lyme can be spread by other biting insects like mosquitoes, horseflies, deerflies, fleas, and lice. Although human infection has not yet been proven, these insects have been shown to carry the Lyme bacteria.

Q. What should I do if I am bitten by a tick?

A. The tick should be removed promptly by pulling it slowly, straight out with fine-pointed tweezers or a special tick-removal tool inserted as close to the skin as possible. Do not apply heat, alcohol, petroleum jelly, or any other substance. Aggravating the tick in this way may cause it to regurgitate into your blood, increasing your chances for infection. Do not squeeze the tick with your fingers either, as this can force Lyme bacteria into your body. You can use antiseptic on the site of the tick bite after the tick is removed.

Some experts believe that you can be infected almost immediately after the tick attaches to your skin, while others think it takes 24 hours or more to be infected. Research shows that the longer the tick is attached, the greater the likelihood of infection.

Q. What should I do after removing a tick?

A. Call your doctor. Some doctors will prescribe several weeks of an antibiotic such as doxycycline as a preventive measure. If you develop symptoms after a tick bite, see your doctor and be sure to get adequately treated for LD and any co-infections you may have contracted. Prompt treatment, for an adequate number of days, is your best defense.

One treatment protocol recommends a single dose of doxycycline to prevent LD. The effectiveness of this treatment has never been duplicated in studies done since the original recommendation in the 1990’s. You can save the tick in a plastic bag or small bottle and show it to your doctor so he can see what bit you. Ticks can be tested for a price, but treatment should not be delayed while waiting for results. A false-negative result could affect your doctor’s decision to treat you.