Health Advocate Blog

Protecting yourself from tick-borne illnesses

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, and since it is now peak tick season for many parts of the country, this is a good opportunity to refresh your understanding of how to prevent tick bites and avoid the illnesses they may carry. Ticks are present in brush and wooded areas, but they may also be in your own backyard. Being vigilant is key to avoiding tick-borne diseases.

While different species of ticks carry a variety of bacteria, viruses or parasites that can make people or pets sick if bit, Lyme disease is one of the most prevalent in the U.S. Here are a few tips to keep you and your family members (including the furry variety) safe from ticks, as well as what to look out for in the months ahead.

Preventing tick bites

Dress appropriately. If you’re planning to go hiking, gardening, or the like, plan to wear lightweight long pants, shirts with sleeves, higher socks, and a hat. The less skin exposed, the fewer places a tick can get onto your skin. You can also treat your clothing with a tick repellant like permethrin, which will last multiple washes. Many brands offer pre-treated options as well.

Apply repellant. In addition to treating your clothing, you may also want to consider applying insect repellant to any areas of exposed skin. The Environmental Protection Agency has a great tool to help you find the type of repellant that’s right for you.

Avoid high-risk areas. If you’re hiking or exploring wooded areas, try to avoid areas of high grass or brush and stick to the center of trails or paths whenever possible.

Protect your pets. Pets tend to nose into areas where ticks thrive, so it’s important to safeguard them as well. Talk with your veterinarian, but a monthly tick and flea preventive is helpful to avoiding Lyme and other diseases, and there are specific repellants formulated for pets that should be applied as needed. There is also a Lyme vaccine available for dogs to provide further protection.

Do a thorough check. After you come in from outside, check over your entire body (as well as those of any kids or pets) to make sure there are no ticks attached anywhere. The longer a tick is attached, the higher the risk of transmitting illness. Make sure to check your clothing and gear as well. Many experts recommend showering soon after returning indoors to wash away any unattached ticks, as well as provide an opportunity for a thorough check. Common areas to find ticks include in and around hair, behind the ears, the underarms, around the waist, groin, and behind the knees, but don’t limit your search just to those spots.

If you do spot a tick, use tweezers to grasp around the head of the tick, and pull it straight up and away. Check out these tips from Johns Hopkins University about what to do next after a bite.

Signs of Lyme disease

If you have been bitten, the next important step is to be on the lookout for any potential symptoms of disease so you can act quickly with your healthcare provider. However, oftentimes, people may not even realize they have been bit by a tick, so being aware of these signs is important either way. Some of the potential indicators of Lyme include:

  • “Bull’s Eye Rash” – not apparent every time, though
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Joint aches and pains
  • Fatigue

Prevention is key when it comes to tick bites, but diagnosing Lyme disease right away means it is completely treatable. Don’t let ticks keep you cooped up indoors this summer, but make sure to take precautions to protect yourself and your family.