Lyme Disease isn’t a new disease. Anyone who grew up in this area knows about the sneaky pin-sized ticks whose bites can cause illness. And this is the time for heightened awareness, since Memorial Day to Labor Day is prime time for deer ticks. In the past few decades, more cases have been reported than ever before. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), this uptick looks likely to continue, with more infections and new tick-borne diseases emerging. The good news is that preventative measures are effective and simple. Here’s how to protect yourself and your family:
Understand Where Ticks Are
The people who are most at risk are children, who play outside, and adults with outdoor hobbies, like golf. “The best way to avoid tick bites is avoiding heavily wooded areas, places with tall grass, and places where there are a lot of animals and trees and you know deer and rodents congregate,” says Westport-based infectious disease specialist Debra Adler-Klein. Ticks are also partial to moist areas or those with a lot of shade.
Be Proactive with Prevention
“There’s always a risk, but it shouldn’t affect the joie de vivre of being outdoors,” says pediatrician Katherine Noble, M.D. of Sound Beach Pediatrics in Stamford, CT. Wearing light colored long sleeves and pants (preferably tucked into socks) and having kids do the same can make it easy to spot ticks and keep them off your body. Spraying bug repellant with DEET on your clothes or those of children can also help (but speak to your pediatrician about any risks). And consider getting your yard sprayed with either a chemical or organic spray that kills ticks (again, check with your doctor and pediatrician first). Spent the day playing the back nine or weeding your flower bed? When you get home, take a shower and check yourself for ticks (without throwing your dirty clothes on your bed, which can leave ticks where you sleep). “The amount of time really matters. A tick that’s only been on a couple of hours is generally not going to transmit the disease,” says Noble.
Remove Ticks And Get Treated If Needed
If you find a tick, immediately dowse it in alcohol and remove it with tweezers as close to the head as possible. Then call your doctor or pediatrician, whether or not it has bitten (you might not know). Some doctors will start antibiotics without erythema migrans or “bulls eye rash” (which doesn’t always appear), or headache and fever. Treatment may depend on how long the tick was on the skin, how the site looks, symptoms and other factors. “But for children, most pediatricians do not recommend routine use of antibiotics for a tick bite or suspected tick bite, unless there is Lyme rash present, because this practice is not supported by current data or the American Academy of Pediatrics,” says Noble. Early detection is “paramount. You can absolutely prevent the late stages of Lyme disease,” says Adler-Klein. Untreated, it can lead to brain, heart, muscle and joint issues and can be hard to treat. Some local heath departments will test ticks for Lyme disease, which may help determine treatment (visit your town website for more information).
Teach Kids to Protect Themselves
Give them basic information: deer ticks are small and if they see one, they should ask an adult to remove it. “I’m not going to tell people to avoid hiking in the woods or visiting the Audubon, but there are certain things you can do to reduce the likelihood you will be bitten,” says Noble. “Kids and parent needs the same message—don’t be afraid of Lyme disease. Be smart and be aware.”
How to Help
The Global Lyme Alliance, based in Greenwich, CT, is a leading nonprofit fighting Lyme and other tick-borne disease with education and research. Funds from the GLA have led to scientific breakthroughs and increased awareness, largely through celebrity spokespeople like Yolanda Foster and Ally Hilfiger. Nine years ago, GLA committed $2 million to create the Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Research Center at Columbia University in New York City—the first center of its kind. To donate to the cause or learn about upcoming events, including galas, shopping parties and races, go to globallymealliance.org
This story originally ran in June 2016.