By Dr. Steven Schneider
Now that the weather is improving, you are probably spending more time outside, which can put you at risk for tick-borne illnesses. This article provides some easy-to-follow tips to minimize your risk of getting infected.
Although Lyme disease is the most common and well-known of diseases transmitted by ticks in the Northeast, U.S., there are several other illnesses that can be just as serious, or more serious, than Lyme.
In the Northeast, the following diseases can be transmitted by ticks:
- Lyme disease
- Anaplasmosis (Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosis)
- Ehrlichosis (Human Monocytic Ehrlichosis)
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (less common)
- Powassan Disease (least common and potentially the most serious)
The goal of this article is not to teach you to self-diagnose any of these infections. It is your doctor’s responsibility to determine risk factors, relevant signs and symptoms and, ultimately, treatment. However, if you live or play in an area of risk and develop a combination of any of the following, you should call your doctor:
- Fever or chills
- Severe headache or stiff neck
- Muscle or joint pain
- Unusual fatigue
- Light sensitivity
- Gastrointestinal symptoms
- Bell’s palsy (facial muscle weakness or paralysis)
A few helpful things that you can do to lower your risk for tick-borne disease are:
- Keep your property well-groomed and the lawn mowed short
- Have a professional spray your property with a tick-killing insecticide. A highly recommended one is permethrin (the same chemical in NIX used for treating head lice) that is derived from a natural chemical produced by chrysanthemum flowers. It is relatively non-toxic, safe during pregnancy and is degredated by sunlight in 24-28 hours.
- Apply permanone spray to clothing. This can decrease your chance of a tick attaching. It is even more effective when used in conjunction with DEET applied to the skin. Permanone tick spray will stay active on your clothes through several wash cycles.
- Space damminix cardboard tubes around the perimeter of your house or lawn area. These tubes contain cotton balls soaked in permethrins and are used by the white-tailed mouse as nesting material. This kills the ticks in the “mouse house.”
- Put all of your clothes in the washing machine immediately after coming in from the great outdoors and use the “hot” water option.
- Do a tick check when undressed.
- Jump in the shower and use a washing mitt and back brush to wash off any difficult-to-see bugs. The nymphs are the size of the period at the end of this sentence.
- Don’t let your pets run free in the woods (least popular advice). They will return covered in ticks.
- Consider deer fencing.