Thursday, April 30, 2020

Ticks: Not a fan of social distancing

tick next to dimeGetting fresh air is more important than ever this coming summer during the public health crises, but it would be wise to remember that both ticks and people are going to be active and outside. Laura Harrington, a professor of entomology, vector biologist, and Director of the CDC Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases (NEVBD) has shared some tips on how to avoid ticks.

A bacterial infection that causes Lyme disease is the most important tick-borne human infection in the U.S., with around 200,000-300,000 reported cases per year. The blacklegged tick or ‘deer tick’ is the vector of Lyme disease in most of the U.S. It can also transmit other pathogens to people and pets, including the agents that cause babesiosis, anaplasmosis and Powassan disease. Blacklegged ticks are most common in forested areas and shaded trail edges with abundant leaf litter and shrubby plants, Harrington says.

Harrington recommends a few personal protection measures to keep ticks from biting, such as tick repellent, first and foremost. She also recommends light-colored clothing, and to tuck your pantlegs into your socks. It also wouldn’t hurt to treat your clothing with permethrin, or to purchase permethrin-treated clothing. Remember to check yourself for ticks often as well, both while hiking and after you get home! It only takes 24-48 hours after the tick attaches before it can begin to transmit Lyme disease. For other pathogens like the Powassan virus, transmission can happen quickly, so it is good to check as often as possible.

Check for ticks all over your body, including your back, neck, and hairline. If you happen to find a tick, carefully remove it with sharp tweezers by grasping as close to the point of attachment as possible and pulling. Once you are back inside, place your clothes in the dryer for at least 20 minutes, and take a shower (a good place to perform a tick check). You can also place your clothes in a sealed garbage bag to dry later.

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6 Responses

  1. David Gibson says:

    Just a comment on removal of the tick once it’s attached – having lots of ticks in my forest and field neighborhoods, I am practiced in this. Don’t pull with tweezers as pulling might leave the mouthparts of the tick inside of you – not good. Buy a curved fork-like tick remover from your veterinarian (why vets carry those and our human docs don’t is kind of crazy). Slide the tined fork device under the tick, so you have the tick snugly in the narrow portion of the fork, and then turn the fork counterclockwise repeatedly. The tick – in its entirety – will lift off (what a relief that is) and remain in the fork so you can flick it and flush it.

  2. Worth Gretter says:

    You say “It also wouldn’t hurt to treat your clothing with permethrin, or to purchase permethrin-treated clothing.” This is a bit of an understatement.

    Permethrin-treated clothing is by far the most effective thing you can do to prevent tick-borne disease. With shirt, pants, socks, and hat that are treated with permethrin, you can walk in the woods with impunity.

    Permethrin not only repels ticks, it also kills them if they stay in contact with it, so they don’t.

    I asked the clerk in a store if they sell very much permethrin. He said “Oh yeah, a ton of it”. So obviously people know about it and are using it. But in the many articles I have read on prevention of tick-borne illnesses, permethrin is mentioned only in passing or not at all.

    Everyone writing on this topic needs to expand their horizons a bit!

    • Boreas says:

      I agree. Permethrin-treated clothing works well for me. It isn’t cheap, but neither is Lyme disease. Also helps with skeeters and blackflies to some extent, but they will still find your face and hands.

      • Suzanne says:

        Yep. I do believe I’ve had Lyme disease for years, having spent much time in the Hamptons barging around in the underbrush, and all my summers in the Adirondacks. I even had the rash at one point, and was really sick for a year, but the doctors all pooh-poohed it and at one point even suggested that the hospital (St. Vincent’s in Manhattan, now closed) had a good mental health facility — was I happy at home? Was I having problems with my husband? Was it all in my mind? Uh, well, no. It began as a really bad cold, and soon I was having terrible aches and pains, muscle spasms, blurred vision, and all sorts of other strange stuff going on. Eventually I quit my job and listened to my Mother, who told me to eat steak and drink port. I also smoked a lot of grass, and that helped, too. After a year I started to feel better. One of my friends was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, which also turned out to be Lyme. Now, 40 years later, I’m achy and painy again. I asked for the test for Lyme and first they refused to give it to me, and then finally after I insisted, got the very basic test which came back negative, because it doesn’t really work. I don’t understand why when this is such a common disease it is so ignored.

        • Boreas says:


          You are certainly not alone! An assumed case of acute (early-stage) disease is often simply treated without testing, because antibiotics are considered safe and effective – and because the tests are not very good. But unless you have the textbook signs/symptoms, a person is likely to assume they have the flu and recover from the acute phase on their own.

          But as you know, late-stage disease has many presentations, and specific testing is even more problematic. In addition, there is no really effective treatment for all presentations. Treatment is usually targeted to relieving symptoms as in rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, Parkinson’s, etc.. If there was a new, expensive, lifetime pharmaceutical specifically for late-stage Lyme disease, you can bet the drug industry would be pushing for more accurate testing.

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