It is Tick Season! #1 Lyme

There are at least 9 infections transmitted by ticks in the U.S., but most common and the most feared among them is Lyme disease.

Although Lyme disease is almost never fatal, it can be debilitating and you are right about not wanting to catch it. You catch Lyme, as I bet you know, from the bite of the tiny deer tick. I want to tell you how this happens, because, as with most infections, your primary tool for prevention is knowledge.

Deer tick bites in May, June or July are the biggest risk for Lyme disease. It is the poppy-seed-sized nymph tick that is most likely to transmit the Lyme bacteria. The nymph is poised on low grass waiting for the common white-footed mouse, their natural source of food. When a human foot brushes a blade of grass instead of a mouse, the nymph still lunges at the opportunity and will feed on you, painlessly, for a few days. Less commonly and usually in the autumn, the adult female deer tick may also transmit Lyme disease. She is the size of an apple seed and usually attaches about knee height.

So, if you live in a risk zone (see map above) and you want to avoid Lyme disease, you need a strategy to avoid tick bites. Your strategy should be three-pronged: (1) deny ticks access to your skin; (2) repel ticks; and (3) remove ticks promptly.

Denying ticks access: Wear long pants; loose fitting is best. There should be no break between pants and socks — you can tuck the pants into the socks or into your boots, or put a rubber band or masking tape over your lower pants leg. If you lie down, be sure your neck and head are covered.

Repellants: Use a repellant with DEET because it is most effective. On clothes (and dogs) you can also use a repellant with permethrin (or pyrethrin). If properly applied, permethrin may remain active on your clothes for a week.

Check for ticks when you get home: Check yourself, check your kids and check each other. It takes time for Lyme to be transmitted. (In sheep, 24 hours of attachment was required.)

There are a lot of other questions you might have, like what are the symptoms of Lyme disease or what to do if you pull a tick off you. I address these questions and much more in No Germs Allowed!

Winkler G. Weinberg, MD

I have been an Infectious Disease physician for over 3 decades. I am the author of No Germs Allowed!. If you liked this article, check out the book on Amazon.

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