In summertime, when kids spend more time outdoors, it’s more important than ever for you to learn how to protect family from ticks and the problems they can bring.
Protecting yourself and your family from tick bites
Ticks are small crawling bugs in the spider family, often found in wooded or grassy areas. Some of them are tiny, the size of a pinpoint. Different kinds of ticks can carry different illnesses, such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Powassan virus—and you don’t want a close encounter with any of them.
You and your family’s best defense is to avoid contact with ticks in the first place. Your next best defense is to quickly find and properly remove any ticks that may latch on to you.
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Here are some tips to keep your family safe:
As much as possible, avoid places ticks hang out
Ticks tend to be near the ground, in decomposing leaves, long grasses, and on fallen logs. (Everywhere your kids love to play!) Have your children play in cleared areas, and when you hike, stay in the middle of trails instead of veering into grassy meadows. Depending on where you live, you may even be exposed to ticks in your backyard. (See here for ways to tick-proof your yard.)
Dress defensively—starting with your feet
In tick territory, closed-toed shoes are a must—preferably ones that have been treated with the repellent permethrin. This will stop a lot of ticks from getting anywhere near your child’s bare legs. (In studies, treated shoes offered 74 times more tick protection than untreated ones.)
Ideally, most of the skin should be covered by socks, long pants and long sleeves. Alas, that’s a hard sell when the weather is hot. Cover up as much as you can and apply repellent to exposed skin. Studies show that repellents with DEET, picaridin or lemon eucalyptus oil are the most effective.
You can purchase clothing that has been pre-treated with permethrin. Its protection lasts through 70 washings. Or, you can spray clothing yourself, which will last through 5-6 washings.
Tie back long hair and wear a hat. Light-colored clothing helps you spot ticks before they cause trouble.
Check for ticks—when outside and after you return home
Despite your best efforts to avoid them, a tick might find its way to the skin of you or your loved ones. When outdoors, everyone should develop the habit of periodically inspecting their clothing and skin for ticks. Brush off those that aren’t attached and remove any that are.
Once you’re home, a shower or bath can wash away unattached ticks. Take the opportunity to thoroughly inspect your body. Glide soapy hands all over your skin, feeling for bumps that might be embedded ticks. Parents should check their children, paying careful attention to hidden places, including groin, back of knees, belly button and scalp.
What if you find an attached tick?
Don’t burn it, smother with Vaseline, squish, squeeze or twist it. Such wrong actions can make the tick regurgitate the contents of its gut right into you—making you more likely to get sick.
How to remove a tick
- Use fine-point tweezers or a special tick-removing tool. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull the tick straight out with steady, even pressure.
- Disinfect the bite area and wash your hands.
- Save the tick for testing (alive if possible) in a small bottle or plastic bag with a green leaf or damp piece of tissue.
- Label it with your name, date, site of bite, and how long tick was attached so you can have the tick tested for pathogens at a tick-testing lab as soon as possible.
Pay attention to how you feel after getting a tick bite. Initial symptoms of tick-borne disease can include fever, headache, joint pain, muscle aches, fatigue, or rash. Contact your physician as soon as possible after you have had a tick bite and if you have any symptoms.
Protect Your Pets
Ticks can infect dogs and cats, too. Also, pet fur can act like a “tick magnet,” carrying ticks inside your home. Consult with your veterinarian about tick-protection for your pets.
An ounce of prevention can go a long way in helping protect you and your loved ones against tick bites and the risk of contracting a nasty infection.
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