Below are a number of steps that you can take to prevent yourself from being exposed to the disease, as put forward by theNational Institute of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Avoid Tick Habitats
Tick like to live in certain places, and avoiding the places where they’re likely to be living in high concentrations will dramatically lessen your chance of having one find you. If possible, you want to avoid heavily wooded areas, and areas which have a lot of bushes and high grass.
Stay on Trails
When you’re out hiking, stay on marked trails as much as possible. Because trails are a defined area where much of the natural foliage has been trampled away, there is less likelihood of your clothes or skin coming into contact with ticks. You’re much more likely to have them attach themselves to you if you wander into areas where you’re blazing your own path, and your clothes come into much more direct contact with native plants in the area.
Use Insect Repellent
Anytime you decide to go outdoors in areas where there may be a high tick population, take the time to put on insect repellent. Insect repellent with the chemicals DEET, permethrin or picaridin work best to prevent them from attaching to you. You should spray the insect repellent on your skin, but also spray it on your clothes for extra protection.
Make sure to cover up this much is possible when you go outside. Wear both long sleeved shirts and long pants. While it isn’t fashionable, tuck your pants into your socks or boots to give them less access to finding their way to your skin. Be sure to wear a hat of some type (this will also help with sun protection) since they can drop onto you from branches above as well.
Wear Light Colors
Opt to wear light colored clothing rather than dark color clothing when outside. The light-colored clothing won’t prevent ticks from finding you any less than dark-colored clothing, but it’ll make it much easier to spot them if they do happen to cling to your clothing when you’re out and about. This will give you a much better chance of finding them before they find a place to attach to your skin.
Always take the time to check yourself after you have spent some time outdoors. Take special precautions to check your shoes and lower legs, as this is where they will typically first find you. After checking your shoes and pants, also check the skin on the lower portion of your legs. You can’t get Lyme disease or Babesiosis until the tick attaches itself into your skin, so if any were able to find you while you are outside, you want to make sure you get them off of you before they have the chance to attach.
Have Someone Else Check You
If you were out hiking with somebody else, take the time to check each other after you have done a self-check. An extra pair of eyes is always better than a single pair, and a partner can look at areas that may be harder for you to see yourself.
Know Where to Look
While ticks can attach to your body anywhere, there are some common places where they’re more likely to be found. Once you’re home, take off your clothes and check in the following places:
- Under your arms
- In and around your ears
- Inside and around your belly button
- Behind your knees
- Between your legs
- Around your waist
- Anyplace where you have hair
These are the places where they will usually gravitate to attach themselves.
Try to take a shower or bath as soon as you can after you have been outdoors. Doing so will help to wash off any ticks that you may have missed which haven’t attached fully or are still crawling in an attempt to find a good place to attach.
Remove Ticks Immediately
If you do find the tick which has attached itself to your body, remove it as quickly as possible. It’s important to remove the entire insect including the head. You can do this yourself by getting a pair of fine tip tweezers. You want to grab the tick with the tweezers as close to its head as possible, which is the part they use to attach themselves to your skin. Pull the tick straight upward with a steady strength (you don’t want to try to jerk it out) without any twisting motions. A twisting motion will likely detach the body from the head, and it’s important to remove the entire parasite. Once the tick has been removed, thoroughly clean the area where it attached with rubbing alcohol and soap and water.
It’s important to remove ticks as quickly as possible because most will not spread Lyme disease until they have been attached to your skin for 36 hours or more. The sooner you can remove it, the better chance you have of avoiding the disease, even if the parasite happens to be a carrier.
Keep the Tick
After removing the tick, you may want to keep it. If you live in an area where Lyme disease is prevalent, your local county health department may have a system in place where you can take it into them, and they will be able to tell you whether it carries Lyme disease are not.
Watch the Spot
Once it has been removed and the area had been thoroughly washed, you want to watch the area for the next couple of weeks. If you see a rash develop where you remove the parasite, you should immediately contact your doctor as this would be a sign that you may have been infected with Lyme disease.
(Photo courtesy of Fairfax County)