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Guide to Lyme Disease

Part 4 of 4 - How Can Lyme Disease Be Prevented?


Updated June 26, 2014

Lyme Disease Prevention Techniques

Reducing exposure to ticks is the best defense against Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections. There are several approaches you and your family can use to prevent and control Lyme disease.

At present, the best way to avoid Lyme disease is to avoid deer ticks. Although generally only about 1 percent of all deer ticks are infected with Lyme disease bacteria, in some areas more than half of them harbor the germs. More people with Lyme disease become infected during the summer, when immature ticks are most prevalent. In warm climates, deer ticks thrive and bite during the winter months as well.

Deer ticks are most often found in wooded areas and nearby shady grasslands and are especially common where the two areas merge. Because the adult ticks feed on deer, areas where deer are seen frequently are likely to harbor large numbers of deer ticks.

If you are pregnant, you should be especially careful to avoid ticks in Lyme disease areas because infection can be transferred to your unborn child. Although rare, such a prenatal infection may make you more likely to miscarry or deliver a stillborn baby.

Tips to Avoid Ticks

  • To help prevent contact with ticks, walk in the center of trails to avoid picking up ticks from overhanging grass and brush.
  • To minimize skin exposure to ticks, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts that fit tightly at the ankles and wrists.
  • To further protect, wear a hat, tuck pant legs into socks, and wear shoes that leave no part of your feet exposed.
  • To make it easy to find ticks on clothes, wear light-colored clothing.
  • To keep ticks away, spray clothing with the insecticide permethrin, commonly found in lawn and garden stores.
  • To repel ticks, spray clothing or the skin with insect repellents that contain a chemical called DEET (N, N-diethyl-M-toluamide).

Although highly effective, repellants can cause some serious side effects, particularly when you use high concentrations repeatedly on your skin. Infants and children especially may suffer from bad reactions to DEET. If you repeatedly apply insect repellants with concentrations of DEET higher than 15 percent, you should wash your skin with soap and water, and wash any clothing as well.

Checking for Ticks

The immature deer ticks most likely to cause Lyme disease are only about the size of a poppy seed, so they are easily mistaken for a freckle or a speck of dirt. Once indoors:

  • Check for ticks, particularly in the hairy regions of your body
  • Wash all clothing
  • Check pets for ticks before letting them in the house Pets can carry ticks into the house. These ticks could fall off without biting the animal and then attach to and bite people. In addition, pets can develop symptoms of Lyme disease.

If a tick is attached to your skin:

  • Pull it out gently with tweezers, taking care not to squeeze the tick’s body
  • Apply an antiseptic to the bite

Please See: How to Remove a Tick

Studies by NIH-supported researchers suggest that a tick must be attached for at least 48 hours to transmit Lyme disease bacteria. Promptly removing the tick could keep you from getting infected.

The risk of developing Lyme disease from a tick bite is small, even in heavily infested areas. Most health care providers prefer not to use antibiotics to treat people bitten by ticks unless they develop symptoms of Lyme disease.

Getting Rid of Ticks

Deer provide a safe haven for ticks that transmit B. burgdorferi and other disease-causing microbes. You can reduce the number of ticks, which can spread diseases in your area, by clearing trees and removing yard litter and excess brush that attract deer and rodents.

In the meantime, researchers are trying to develop an effective strategy for ridding areas of deer ticks. Studies show that spraying pesticide in wooded areas in the spring and fall can substantially reduce for more than a year the number of adult deer ticks living there. Spraying on a large scale, however, may not be economically feasible and may prompt environmental or health concerns. Researchers also are testing pesticide-treated deer and rodent feeders, which may offer an environmentally safer alternative. One product, the Maxforce Tick Management System, tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reduces the number of ticks in the landscape by 80 percent the first year and 97 percent by year two. Successful control of deer ticks will probably depend on a combination of tactics. Before wide-scale tick control strategies can be put into practice, there need to be more definitive studies.

Source: NIH Publication No. 05-7045

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