Tick Safety and Lyme Disease Prevention
With more people spending time outdoors as a result of the pandemic, it’s important to remember that tick-borne illnesses are still a concern in the Northeast. Did you know that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year? It may also surprise you that 20 percent of people surveyed in Lyme disease-affected areas were completely unaware that they were at risk!
We want to make sure our patients are informed about ticks and tick-borne disease prevention. If you are pregnant, read below about how you can protect yourself and your baby.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi that is transmitted to people through a bite from an infected black-legged or deer tick. If not treated in its early stages, Lyme disease can cause serious issues, such as meningitis, temporary weakness of muscles in the face, and arthritis.
Symptoms of Lyme disease can occur anywhere from 3 to 30 days after the bite. The CDC says that the chances of getting Lyme disease from a tick bite depends on the type of tick, where you were when the bite occurred, and how long the tick was attached to you (black-legged ticks must be attached to you for 36 to 48 hours to transmit Lyme disease). For a list of regions where ticks can be found, click here.
What does a tick look like?
Ticks are tiny! They can be the size of a freckle or a poppy seed. Since ticks are so small, they can hide anywhere on your body. After coming in from a wooded or grassy area, it’s important to check everywhere including in between your toes, under your armpits, behind your knees, behind your ears, under your breasts, etc.
How can I prevent a tick bite?
Exposure to ticks can occur throughout the year, however, ticks are most active during warmer months (April to September). The CDC recommends the following steps on how you and your family can stay protected.
Before you go outside:
Know where ticks live. Ticks live in grassy, brushy or wooded areas – they can even live on animals. Many people come across ticks in their own yard/neighborhood. Check to see which ticks are most common in your area.
Treat your clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin. CBS News recently reported that several companies are selling permethrin-treated shirts, pants, socks and other clothing to help ward off ticks.
Use EPA registered insect repellants containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. (Remember, it is not recommended to use insect repellant on babies younger than 2 months old and products containing OLE or PMD on children under 3 years of age).
Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass. Walk in the center of trails.
After you come inside:
Check your clothing for ticks, as ticks can be carried into the house on clothing. You can tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing. Cool and medium temperatures will not kill them.
Take a shower soon after being outside. Showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce the risk of tick borne diseases, as it may help wash off any unattached ticks.
Perform a full-body tick check. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Make sure you check the following body parts on you and your child:
- Under the arms
- In and around the ears
- Inside the belly button
- Back of the knees
- In and around the hair
- Between the legs
- Around the waist
Be sure to check your dog for ticks. Dogs are susceptible to tick bites and tick-borne diseases. In fact, it’s highly recommended to use a tick repellent product on your dog. You can talk to your veterinarian about the best products for them. The CDC advises on how you can prevent ticks in your yard.
What should I do if I find a tick attached to my body?
1) Remove the tick right away. There have been many tick removal strategies, such as petroleum jelly, matches, etc. But according to Prevention and the CDC, the best and safest way to remove a tick is to use a pair of fine-tipped tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible, and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Be sure not to 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 the tweezers. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. You can dispose of the tick by putting it in rubbing alcohol and placing it in a bag or flushing it down the toilet (never crush a tick with your fingers).
2) Save the tick. It may be a good idea to save the tick for a few weeks just in case you develop symptoms of Lyme disease or another infection. Your doctor can send it out to a laboratory for testing.
3) Be on the look-out for the following Lyme disease symptoms:
The CDC advises that about 80% of infected people develop a rash within 3 to 30 days after being bitten. The rash can resemble a bull’s eye (large red outer ring with a red dot inside). Other symptoms include, a lingering fever, headache, fatigue and muscle/joint pain. After removing the tick, be sure to consult with your physician, as testing for Lyme disease may be recommended.
Ticks and Pregnant Moms
The best way for pregnant Moms to protect themselves and their baby from a tick bite is to follow the prevention methods we’ve outlined above (be sure to consult with your doctor about selecting the right bug spray). If you do happen to get a tick bite, the good news is, that according to Jorge Parada, MD, infectious disease specialist and medical advisor with the National Pest Management Association, “Lyme disease won’t affect your child in the womb, as long as you get the proper treatment. There’s no evidence that links Lyme disease in pregnant women to birth defects and there’s no evidence showing that Lyme disease can be transmitted via breast milk.”
However, if a pregnant woman contracts Lyme disease during her pregnancy and it is left untreated, it could lead to an infection of the placenta and a possible miscarriage. That’s why it’s so important to catch any symptoms early on, as it can drastically reduce this from happening.
For more information about ticks or if you have any questions, please consult with your Women’s Health Connecticut provider.
Norton, Amy, “Study confirms this method of repelling ticks really does work” CBSNews.com, May 25, 2018.
Levine, Hallie, “How to Remove a Tick the Right Way” Prevention.com, June 12, 2018.
Ticks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/index.html
Morris, Megan, “Preventing Lyme Disease in Pregnancy: 5 Tips” fitpregnancy.com, 2018.