If you live in Virginia or Maine (or somewhere in between), or in the Upper Midwest, especially Wisconsin or Minnesota, you’re in Lyme disease country. Infections also occur on the West Coast, primarily in Northern California. How to avoid getting hit with it this summer? Heed the advice of entomologist Kirby Stafford, author of The Tick Management Handbook.
1. When recreating outdoors, wear long sleeves and pants, and tuck your pants into your socks.
2. Stick to the middle of trails when hiking. Tick nymphs, the most common form to infect humans, are found in leaf litter, close to the ground.
3. Insect repellent is effective. Try permethrin-based clothing or mosquito repellents with at least 30 percent deet.
4. Once home, check your skin immediately. Ticks like every part of the body, especially the hairline, ears, belly button, and groin area. Nymphs are very small, about the size of a sesame seed. They often look like a tiny dark freckle.
5. Bathe within two hours of having been outside, and check your clothing and gear for ticks, too. Tumbling clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour will kill any ticks you collected.
6. Early prevention is key. If you remove a tick within the first 24 hours, the transmission rate is zero, because it takes time for the bacteria to move from the gut of the tick into your bloodstream.
7. The best way to remove a tick is with fine-tip tweezers. Grasp the skin and pull off the tick intact. Disinfect the site and watch for symptoms of infection.
8. If infected, most people develop a rash around the site of the tick bite. “Bull’s-eye” is a bit of a misnomer, because rashes can look different on different parts of the body. Regardless, it will be red, will expand slowly, and will likely appear within a few days to a month after a bite. Fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and general flu-like symptoms are also good indicators.
9. If you suspect you have Lyme, see your physician immediately. It can take a few weeks for your body to build up detectable levels of antibodies, so early Lyme tests may come back negative. If you’re infected, your physician will prescribe a round of doxycycline, which should quickly knock the Lyme out.