Hiker

Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 476,000 Americans contract Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne illness. Though Lyme disease is easy to treat, it can cause a range of awful symptoms. These range from flu-like symptoms to confusion and heart inflammation.

In short, you want to avoid it.

The good news is that stopping ticks from infecting you with Lyme disease is easy. Taking precautions can prevent Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses like Rocky Mountain spotted fever and babesiosis.

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Steps to Prevent Tick Bites

Ticks are common in forested, brushy, leafy, and grassy areas. In some cases, you can avoid tick hideouts by staying in the center of a hiking trail, for example. Because this isn’t always possible, ensure you’re protected before hiking, camping, or gardening in an overgrown area.

Wear protective clothing

Ticks can’t fly; they crawl, so you should especially focus on covering your feet and legs with protective clothing. Make sure you’re wearing long pants, socks, and closed-toe shoes.

It’s a good idea to tuck your pant leg into your socks and your shirt into your pants. As unfashionable as this sounds, you want to stop ticks from crawling into these openings.

You should also wear light-colored clothing. That way, you can spot a crawling tick.

“Especially in the summer, people like to wear shorts and half-sleeved shirts,” says Rutul Dalal, MD, infectious diseases specialist, UPMC in North Central Pa. “I think especially if you are venturing into heavily forested areas, you should wear long sleeves, long trousers, especially lighter-colored ones so that you can spot the tick if it’s on you very easily.”

Does wearing a hat prevent ticks?

Ticks like to crawl around on your body until they find a suitable place to bite. Concealed areas, such as your hair-covered head, are common spots for tick bites. That’s why wearing a hat is a good way to prevent tick bites. Tying your hair back and wearing a tight-fitting hat will make it harder for ticks to get to your scalp.

To prevent ticks that crawl onto your clothing from ultimately biting and infecting you, treat your clothing with 0.5% permethrin. The repellent will kill the ticks before they can bite you. Because home-treating clothing is extra work and only lasts for a few washings, consider buying clothing that a professional has pretreated with permethrin.

Alternatively, you can have your clothing professionally treated by mailing it to Insect Shield, an insect repellent company. Whether you buy pretreated clothing or have your clothing treated, a professional tick-repellent treatment will last up to 70 washes.

Use insect repellent

In addition to wearing repellent-treated clothing, you can apply insect repellent directly to your skin. This will protect you if the ticks crawl under your clothing or onto an exposed body part. Make sure to cover your feet, arms, legs, torso, armpits, neck, and hairline.

The CDC recommends using Environmental Protection Agency-recommended insect repellents to repel ticks. These include products containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-3,8-diol, or 2-undecanone.

“You should use insect repellents that are at least 20% DEET on your skin so that these ticks cannot really attach to you,” Dr. Dalal says.

Picaridin is an excellent — and potentially safer — alternative to DEET. While it is as effective as DEET, it has minimal smell and is unlikely to cause skin irritation. Its protection can last up to 14 hours.

Shower and check yourself for ticks after potential exposure

Do showers get rid of ticks? Yes, they can help remove ticks before they attach firmly. If you’ve been in a forested or overgrown area where ticks live, shower and wash your hair when you come indoors.

The CDC says that for Lyme disease, a tick has to typically attach for at least 24 hours before it spreads infection. Scrubbing with soap and water can cause the tick to fall off before this happens.

After you shower, check your body for ticks using a mirror to examine your back. Parents should also examine their kids. Ticks can bite anywhere but prefer to latch on in warm and moist or hair-covered body areas.

So, check under the arms, around and in the ears, inside the belly button, in the groin area, and behind the knees. Feel around your scalp, or better yet, have someone examine it. As ticks crawl in at openings to your clothing, pay particular attention to areas like your waistline.

“If you are out, get someone from the family to do a tick check on you,” Dr. Dalal says. “And if you’re not sure, always take a shower. Take as many showers as possible, especially after you have an outdoor visit. Put your clothes into the washer, and then put it on high heat for the drying process to also kill the tick that harbors the bacteria.”

When Should You Worry About a Tick Bite?

You should seek medical attention if you notice symptoms like fever, chills, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, or swollen lymph nodes. This is also the case if you notice a rash, especially if it begins at the site of a tick bite. These symptoms could indicate Lyme disease or another tick-borne illness.

What to look for after a tick bite

If you do find a tick, don’t panic. Most ticks don’t carry disease.

If the tick is carrying an infection-causing germ, removing it within a day or two will prevent most cases of Lyme disease and many other tick-borne infections. However, some of the rare tick-borne infections can transfer within minutes.

If you do get a tick bite, watch for these symptoms:

  • Fatigue.
  • Fever or flu-like symptoms.
  • Headache.
  • Joint pain or swelling.
  • Redness or a rash at the bite site.
  • Swelling.

Step-by-Step Guide to Safe Tick Removal

If you see an attached tick, don’t freak out. You don’t want to rip the tick apart when removing it.

Take a deep breath and use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Don’t use your bare hands to remove a tick.

To remove a tick:

  • 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 the mouth parts do break off, remove them 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, soap, and water.
  • Take a clear photo of the tick or save it for your doctor to test if you show signs of illness.
  • Dispose of a live tick if your doctor gives the OK. You can do this by submerging it in alcohol. You can also place it in a sealed bag or container, wrap it tightly in tape, or flush it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.

Following these steps, you can enjoy the great outdoors while minimizing your risk of tick bites and the diseases they carry.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

CDC. Lyme Disease Prevention: On People. Link

CDC. Diseases Spread by Ticks. Link

CDC. Prevent Lyme Disease. Link

National Recreation and Park Association. How to prevent ticks and still enjoy the Outdoors.Link

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