I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you spend much time outdoors, you’re probably going to get bitten by a tick. And that means you could contract Lyme disease.
Climate change is partly to blame. Warming global temperatures are helping boost tick populations in two ways: they’re giving ticks more time to complete their life cycle, and they’re making it easier for these pests to survive in more northerly latitudes that used to be too cold for them.
But development and sprawl are factors, too. As development shrinks forests and wetlands, deer, foxes, and other animals that carry ticks move into suburban and even urban neighborhoods. The ticks may rub off onto bushes or fall into the grass, where pets can easily pick them up, or you’ll get them when you’re gardening or having a barbecue.
More Lyme Disease
More ticks everywhere only means one thing: More Lyme disease.
According to researchers from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health in Toronto, Canada, Lyme disease incidence increased about 80% in the United States between 1993 and 2007. And it’s still going strong.
If you don’t treat the disease, the infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. And once it gets hold of you, it can last for years. Immediate treatment, usually with antibiotics, is absolutely critical.
Just as important, though, is to protect yourself against getting a tick bite in the first place.
How to Prevent a Tick Bite
1) Take precautions year-round, but especially April – September, when ticks are most active.
2) Stay on paths and avoid high grass. It’s easy for ticks to attach themselves to your clothes or skin if you’re walking through woods, a meadow, a forest, or even a tall lawn that hasn’t been mowed for a while. Stay on a clear path where you won’t brush up against foliage that could be bearing ticks. Walk in the center of trails.
3) When hiking through woods or tall grass, wear protective clothing. That includes long pants that fit close to your ankles, socks, boots or shoes that enclose your entire foot, long-sleeved shirts, and a hat.
4) Garden carefully. When gardening in your yard or mowing your lawn, wear long pants, socks, and shoes rather than shorts and sandals. Don a long-sleeve shirt and a hat, too. Remember, ticks can brush off deer and other wildlife and end up in the low branches of a tree, where they can drop onto you if you happen to be walking below.
5) Apply tick repellent insecticides sparingly. I prefer to wear protective clothes and spray the clothing than to spray my skin directly.
6) Look for ticks when you finish your hike or come in from outdoors. Brush off your clothes, shake out your hair, and examine your exposed skin and your scalp closely. A tick is very very tiny so take your time as you look yourself over. Parents should take extra care with their children, looking under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
7) Examine your pets. Keep your cats and dogs up-to-date on their flea and tick regimen. Pets can get Lyme disease, too. They can also transport ticks into your home, where they could bite you. The best strategy is to keep ticks out of the house and off your body and that of your pet. Before you bring your pet inside, comb its fur with a fine comb to reveal any ticks that could be clinging to it. Otherwise, it’s easy for the pet to transfer the tick to you.
Meet My Tick Bite
Last May, after a weekend spent gardening in my backyard, I woke up to discover this big red welt on my lower abdomen.
As soon as I saw it, I thought “tick bite,” though I don’t remember seeing a tick, and there was no tick apparent.
I immediately went to the doctor, and his reaction was the same as mine. He took one look and decided to put me on antibiotics right away so I wouldn’t get Lyme disease.
It took almost two weeks for the welt to go away. I finished the antibiotic treatment and have no Lyme disease symptoms. But this spring and summer, I’ll be much more careful about dressing to protect myself against getting bitten again.