Summertime welcomes the opportunities for sun-filled days, warmer temperatures, and countless outdoor adventures. Along with the warmer weather, however, comes the risk of tick bites and potential tickborne diseases. Tick exposure can occur year-round, especially if you live in wooded, grassy, or brushy areas, but ticks are more active from April to September when temperatures rise across the country.
In fact, studies over the past few years show that climate change has contributed to the expanded range of locations in which ticks can survive. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Because tick activity depends on temperatures being above a certain minimum, shorter winters could also extend the period when ticks are active each year, increasing the time that humans could be exposed to Lyme disease.”
In recent years, the number of reported tickborne diseases in the United States ranged from about 50,000 to 60,000 per year. The most common tickborne illness is Lyme disease, a potentially serious bacterial infection that affects both people and animals. Lyme disease can cause fever, fatigue, joint pain, and rash, in addition to more serious joint and nervous system issues. While Lyme disease cases have been reported in almost all states, the most common US regions are the Northeast, upper Midwest, and northwestern states.
Protecting Your Family from Ticks
The best line of defense is to prevent tick bites as much as possible. Enjoy the outdoors with your family but avoid grassy or brush areas when possible. If you’re going on a hike, for example, try to remember to walk in the center of trails (note: ticks cannot jump or fly so they must come into direct contact with you to bite). While prevention is key, following these seven additional tips can give your family added protection and peace of mind.
Wear protective clothing in wooded areas.
Before heading into the woods, put on pants, long-sleeved shirts, and high boots. Since ticks are often darker in color (red, brown, etc.), wearing lighter clothing may help you spot them more easily. One trick by avid hikers is to wrap duct tape around your pant legs with the sticky side out to try to catch ticks before crawling up your legs.
Treat clothing or purchase specially designed apparel.
Products containing 0.5% permethrin should be used to treat clothing, shoes, and gear to protect against ticks. Permethrin resembles naturally occurring chemicals found in chrysanthemums that have insecticidal properties. Many clothing brands also sell insect-prevention clothing like pants and tops, such as this Kids’ Insect-Shield Hoodie from L.L. Bean.
Use an EPA-registered repellant.
The Environmental Protection Agency has an extensive list of EPA-registered repellents for ticks and/or mosquitos. Many insect repellent products contain the active ingredient DEET, which has been clinically tested and deemed safe for children over 2 months. Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends looking for insect repellents that contain no more than 30% DEET for the general population. Consider this chart from Health Canada for DEET recommendations for children:
Also keep in mind that most products containing DEET should only be applied to children once per day (i.e., don’t use a product containing both DEET and sunscreen since sunscreen should often be applied more often in a day).
Concerned about DEET?
The EWG acknowledges that while the safety of DEET has been called into question over the years, studies have found that it is unlikely to be a cause of neurotoxicity. They explain, “DEET isn’t a perfect choice, nor the only choice. But weighed against the consequences of a life-changing disease, such as West Nile virus, we believe it is a reasonable choice.” (Read more in their guide.)
EWG recommends some alternatives to products containing DEET, including Picardin, IR3535, and lemon eucalyptus oil. Note that lemon eucalyptus oil is not recommended for children under the age of three. Learn more from the EWG’s guide to bug repellents.
Do a search for tick numbers in your area.
According to the CDC, only a few different tick species bite and transmit diseases to humans. These maps show the general distribution of different human-biting ticks in the United States, according to species.
Perform a “tick check” soon after outdoor exposure.
Upon returning from hikes or potential tick-infested areas, check each family member’s full body. The CDC recommends paying special attention to these areas: underarms, in and around the ears, inside belly button, back of the knees, in and around hair, between legs, and around the waist. Showering within a couple hours of outdoor exposure has been shown to reduce the risk of getting Lyme disease and other tickborne diseases. Be sure to also check your pets for ticks.
If you suspect you’ve been bitten by a tick, be aware of the common signs and symptoms that may occur, including fever and chills, aches and pains, and rashes—and contact your doctor if any symptoms occur.
Immediately dry worn clothes on high heat.
In addition to performing body checks, make sure to remove any ticks from clothing and gear. Your worn clothing should be placed in the dryer on high heat for at least 10 minutes to kill ticks that may have attached to your clothing. (If washing clothing first, it’s recommended to use hot water.)
Update your landscaping with “tick-free” zones.
Your garden and grassy areas in your backyard can be breeding grounds for ticks. A 3-foot-wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between your lawn and wooded areas can help restrict ticks from migrating into your space. If possible, play structures should be kept in sunny areas and away from yard edges or trees.
How to Remove a Tick
If you find a tick attached to your or your child’s skin, it’s important to remove the tick as soon as possible. Below are instructions from the CDC on how to remove a tick with a set of fine-tipped tweezers:
- Use clean, fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. 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 cannot remove the mouth easily with tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
- Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by:
- Putting it in alcohol
- Placing it in a sealed bag/container
- Wrapping it tightly in tape
- Flushing it down the toilet
This story was originally published in the Summer 2022 issue of KIWI, read it now!