The Bugs of Summer


A look online at any map of tick activity tells you all you need to know: our corner of the world is swarming with them. And even though summer may be starting to wind down, tick activity remains high through December. That means your risk of contracting Lyme disease through a tick bite is still high. And that’s why you need to take every precaution to avoid contact.

How to Avoid a Tick Attack

A few simple steps can help reduce the risk of ticks hitching a ride:

• Know where they live and steer clear — Avoid tall grass, including in brushy or wooded areas. When hiking or biking, keep to the center of the trail.
• Use bug spray — Apply repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. And remember: always follow product instructions.
• Treat your clothing and gear — Before you head out, treat boots, clothing (including socks) and gear, such as tents and backpacks, with a repellent containing 0.5% permethrin.

Once you’re back indoors:

• Check your clothing — Remove any ticks with tweezers or anything other than your fingers. Run dry clothing in your dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any stragglers. If clothes are wet or damp, run on high heat until fully dry.

• Take a shower within two hours — In addition to washing off unattached ticks, a shower can reduce your risk of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases.

• Search yourself, check your kids — Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to check:
– Under the arms
– In and around the ears
– Inside belly button
– Back of the knees
– In and around the hair
– Between the legs
– Around the waist

So, what if your full-body search turns up a tick?

The Right Way to Remove a Tick*

In spite of all your precautions, a tick managed to latch on. Yes, it’s kind of creepy, but don’t panic and don’t just try to pull it off with your fingers! Here’s what you need to do:

• First, make sure you have pointy tweezers. Ticks can be tiny, and typical square-headed tweezers just aren’t precise enough for the job.
• Next, clean the area around the tick with rubbing alcohol.
• Place the points of the tweezers right against your skin. You want to grab the tick as close to its head as possible.
• Pull straight up firmly but slowly with steady pressure. Don’t twist or yank the tick once you’ve got hold of it.
• When the tick relents, clean the area again with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. If part of the head breaks off, don’t worry. You can go back and remove it with the tweezers.

Once you’ve got the tick, it’s a good idea to keep it alive and get it tested. Place it in a plastic bag with a blade of grass, and ask your doctor where you can take it for testing. Some state agencies will provide this service.

Recognizing and Treating Lyme Disease**

If you’ve been bitten by a tick, there’s a chance that it could have transmitted Lyme disease. And anyone who’s had this disease will tell you that it’s nothing to shrug off. This is a disease you want treat early with antibiotics. When you do, recovery is usually quick and complete — anywhere from 10 to 21 days. But if it’s left untreated, Lyme disease can cause serious and long-lasting issues.

In the early stages of the disease (3-30 days after infection), symptoms include:
– Fever and chills
– Headache
– Fatigue
– Muscle and joint aches
– Swollen lymph nodes
– A rash known as EM (erythema migrans) — In 70-80% of cases, EM begins at the site of a bite and can gradually expand to 12 inches or more. It often lightens as it spreads to look like a bull’s-eye.

However, if Lyme disease isn’t treated early in the infection, your symptoms can become debilitating:
– Severe headaches and neck stiffness
– Additional EM rashes on other parts of your body
– Arthritis with severe pain and swelling, particularly in the knees and other large joints.
– Facial palsy (drooping)
– On-and-off sharp pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones
– Irregular heart beat or palpitations
– Dizziness or shortness of breath
– Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
– Nerve pain
– Stabbing pain, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet
– Short-term memory problems

Treating advanced Lyme disease requires IV antibiotics for two to three weeks, and may also include physical therapy, antidepressants and dietary changes. Even after the bacterial infection is taken care of, symptoms can sometimes take months to completely disappear.

Ultimately of course, you want to avoid even the comparatively mild early symptoms of Lyme disease. And that means avoiding ticks completely. So cover up, avoid tick hang-outs, use your bug repellent, and check yourself and clothing when you’re back inside — from now until after the bugs of summer have gone.