Blacklegged ticks – also known as deer ticks – are responsible for about 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About the size of a sesame seed when full-grown, these tiny arachnids thrive in moist and humid environments and are particularly fond of wooded or grassy areas.
But you don’t need a forest to attract Lyme-carrying ticks. Many parks with naturalized areas or backyards ringed with beds of grasses and wildflowers provide the perfect environment for deer ticks to grow and multiply. Tending vegetable gardens that attract deer, this tick’s preferred food source, also increases your risk of encountering a black-legged tick.
You won’t have to stay indoors, however, to limit your risks of developing Lyme disease. Dr. Forouzesh, our Lyme disease specialist at AIDM, has put together a few tips to try instead.
Tick-proof your landscape
Ticks prefer tall grasses to the cultivated lawns many humans enjoy, so keep the grass around your home clipped short. You can also create a tick barrier by surrounding your flower beds and naturalized areas with a wide, dry strip of mulch, bark, or gravel (about 36 inches). It’s a beautiful way to highlight your gardening skills and can help keep ticks where they belong.
Install a deer-proof fence to keep your veggies safe and help prevent deer from dropping their unwelcome stowaways in your garden. Because ticks also get Lyme disease from mice, move woodpiles and other rodent-attracting structures from within easy reach of your home.
Make yourself unattractive to ticks
Whether you’re hiking in the forest or tending to wildflowers in your backyard, use an insect repellent containing DEET to repel ticks. Be sure to avoid contact with your eyes and face. Wear lightweight pants, long-sleeved shirts, and socks. Also, stick with enclosed shoes rather than open-toed sandals when you’re strolling through a tick-friendly area.
Stay on cleared hiking trails and avoid side trips into wooded areas or tromping through leaves and tall grasses. Ticks spend most of their time on the ground, where they wait for warm-blooded mammals, like humans, to pass by.
Check before you rest
When you come inside from a hike through the park, a stint in your garden, or any outdoor activity that may have brought you within range of ticks, shower first, and then check your body and hair for stubborn hitchhikers.
Those that haven’t latched on securely often wash away under the force of a shower stream. But they’re tiny and can easily hide under your arms, in the groin region, and even in your navel. Inspect your clothing too, including your coat, socks, hat, and shoes.
It can take up to three days for ticks to transfer Lyme disease through their bites, so the sooner you get them off the better. If a tick isn’t attached securely yet, remove it with a pair of tweezers and watch for a rash that may be the early warning sign of Lyme. See the doctor for removal of any that are firmly embedded in your skin.
Don’t forget the dog
Dogs, cats, and other pets that spend time outdoors can also bring ticks indoors. Check their fur, skin, and collars closely for ticks. If your four-legged friends travel along with you on hikes or camping adventures, keep them from exploring the forest undergrowth or grassy meadows when you can. Your veterinarian can also recommend pet-friendly products that effectively prevent ticks from latching onto your friend.
If you do end up with a tick bite that causes you concern, remember that Lyme disease is treatable. The earlier we catch it, the easier the treatment, such as the use of oral antibiotics to fight the infection. Call for an appointment at AIDM in Hoboken, New Jersey, or schedule your visit online.