Now that it’s officially summer, you’re probably hearing more conversation surrounding the prevalence of ticks and Lyme disease. Tick-borne illness is the most common this time of year, more than any other season. Many types of ticks go dormant during cooler months and awaken once the weather warms up. What’s more: With the milder winters we’ve had, the tick population has increased. “The warmer temperatures we’ve been seeing in recent years allow for tick hosts to survive and even thrive all year round,” explains Mia Finkelston, M.D., family physician at LiveHealth Online.
This is quite dangerous, not only for humans but also our furry friends. Ticks carry a myriad of illnesses. These include bacterial infections such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, parasitic infections, and viral infections. Considering that most of us enjoy spending most of the summer outdoors, it’s crucial that you protect yourself. Here, experts reveal the most important things to know about ticks and the diseases they carry.
Know your geographical risk.
According to Yevgeniy Vaynkof, M.D., family physician at Medical Offices of Manhattan, most common and widely known tick-borne illnesses occur in the northeast and, to a lesser extent, the Midwest. “Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Hampshire are especially prone to Lyme disease outbreaks. So if you’re in one of these states, it’s wise to use extra caution,” he says.
Use more than bug spray to defend yourself.
Good old DEET may help keep mosquitos at bay—but not ticks entirely. It’s recommended that you wear clothing that covers most of your skin if you’re going to be outdoors, especially in a rural area while camping or hiking. “Cover as much of your body as possible. Even go as far as to tuck your pant legs into your socks,” Vaynkof says. He does recommend using a repellent in addition to protective clothing, specifically one that contains a high percentage of DEET to help repel ticks and the potential microbes they carry. Apply to all exposed (and unexposed) areas as best you can.
Bathe as soon as you return from being outdoors.
This isn’t always possible, but if you’re in an area with brush or high grass, it’s best to rinse as soon as you can. “Ticks are very small insects, so a person is usually not even aware it’s on their skin,” Vaynkof notes. “This makes it very important to shower immediately after coming indoors after being in a potentially tick-infested area, which can help wash off the tick before it had a chance to bite and possibly transmit the microbe that it carries.” It usually takes about 24 hours for a tick to transmit the harmful disease it may be carrying. So a shower can help save your health big-time.
Complete tick checks regularly.
Every time you come in from being outdoors in the summertime, check for ticks. Removing a tick before it fully attaches can help prevent disease. “The initial attachment process for hard ticks varies (some species roam on the skin prior to attachment). [This] means you may be able to detect and remove a tick before it attaches,” says Christopher Pappas, Ph.D., associate professor of biology at Manhattanville College. “Further, certain diseases such as Lyme disease typically require at least 24 hours of attachment before they begin to transmit to the host.” So, early detection and removal is pivotal to avoid contracting certain tick-borne illnesses.
Remove ticks that are embedded in your skin as soon as possible.
The longer a tick is attached to you, the greater the likelihood it will pass on disease-causing microorganisms, according to Bobbi Pritt, M.D., director of the Clinical Parasitology Laboratory at the Mayo Clinic and chair of the College of American Pathologists Microbiology Resource Committee. If you do find a tick attached to your body, use a pair of fine-tipped tweezers to remove it. “Grasp the tick as close as possible to the skin, and pull it out in one continuous motion, avoiding twisting or tearing the tick as best you can,” Pritt says. “You can use specially-designed tools for removing ticks, but good old-fashioned tweezers work just as well.”
Ticks are present in our environment. But don’t be discouraged from enjoying the activities nature has to offer in the summer, especially outdoor activities such as hiking, volleyball, and running. Instead, use this knowledge of how to best avoid and remove ticks, and go explore!