DR. WENDY CUNNINGHAM: Preventing tick bites

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Summer means spending time in the great outdoors — and exposure to all the creepy crawlies like ticks. The concern with getting a tick bite is the risk of a tick-borne illness like Lyme disease, Babesia and Bartonella, which can be devastating. Preventing a tick bite includes the following key steps:

Stick to the middle of well-cleared paths. Ticks like to live in tall grassy areas. Walking through tall grasses and shrubby areas allows them to jump onto you. Also avoid sitting in these types of areas.

Wear the right clothing. Ticks can crawl under your shorts or down your shirt to find a warm place to bite and burrow in. Wear long pants tucked into your socks and long sleeves shirts tucked into your pants so there are fewer potential points of entry. Lighter-colored clothing and socks make it easier to spot a tick on your clothes.

Apply a safe and effective insect repellent that works against ticks every two to three hours. Several studies have found various essential oils to be effective in repelling and killing ticks. Essential oils to consider include eucalyptus, tansy, rose geranium, clove, lavender, palmarosa, pennyroyal, rose and sweet myrrh. You can make your own repellent using these oils, or buy something already prepared. Badger Bug Repellents are widely available and contain citronella, cedar, lemongrass, rosemary, geranium and peppermint essential oils. Essential oils are effective because of their scent, so you need to reapply if you can no longer smell it. I do not recommend DEET for routine use because of its associated toxicity.

Check frequently for ticks while you are out. Ideally, you will see a tick crawling on your clothes and just flick it away. Carefully check behind and in ears, back of the neck, hairline and scalp. Look under shirt collars, waistbands and in armpits. It will likely look like a speck of dirt or a new freckle. The nymph, the smallest form of the deer tick, is literally the size of a poppy seed. If a tick bites, the earlier you find it, the less time it has to transmit saliva that carries the Borrelia spirochetes and other bugs, and the less likely you are to contract a tick-borne infection.

Once back home, take all clothes off and wash in hot water or use high heat in the dryer for at least 30 minutes. Take a warm shower immediately to wash away ticks not fully attached yet, and perform another thorough tick check after the bath. Ticks love warm, moist, dark areas of the body, so check these hidden areas well. Be as thorough as possible, because most people with Lyme disease never notice the tick that gave it to them.

Check your pets and gear. Anything that was outside with you can be a potential source for bringing the ticks inside the home. If possible, wash your backpacks and camping gear, or at the very least do a thorough inspection and shake everything out.

Next week we will talk about what to do if you have been bitten by a tick.

• • •

For more information, contact Dr. Wendy at haydenhealth@gmail.com.

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