For those of us who love the outdoors, the increasing risk of Lyme disease transmitted by a growing tick population is worrying. Fortunately, there are a number of things that you can do to help decrease your risk of Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there about how to protect yourself from ticks. Here are some of the dos and don’ts of tick protection.
Do-Practice Tick Prevention
- Wear light coloured clothing to help you detect any ticks that you may have picked up
- Tuck your pants into your socks
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants
- Keep long hair tied back
- Use products with DEET to repel ticks or clothing treated with permethrin
- Inspect yourself carefully and, if possible, shower after spending time outside. Ticks in their nymph stage are the most difficult to detect and often go unnoticed. They can be as small as a poppy seed and are usually present in late spring and early summer.
- Putting clothing that you wore outside in the dryer for 10 minutes on high heat will kill ticks. They will, however, survive a cold cycle in the washing machine. Washing them with a water temperature of ≥54°C (≥130°F) will kill them.
Do-Remove Ticks Safely
- Remove ticks using tweezers. Grab hold of the tick as close to your skin as possible, apply pressure and gently pull the tick away.
- Save any attached ticks in a freezer bag or container with the date you removed them written down. In many provinces, you can send ticks to your local public health unit to be tested for the bacteria causing Lyme.
- Know the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease. Health Canada lists some of the signs and symptoms as; fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, spasms, numbness, tingling, facial paralysis, fatigue, swollen glands, and expanding skin rash.
Don’t-Aggravate the Tick
- Do not use peppermint oil or other essential oils to detach a tick. Putting essential oils or other products (nail polish, petroleum jelly, etc.) on ticks may actually increase your risk of contracting the bacteria that causes illness.
- Do not squish or twist the tick in an effort to remove it. Doing this could increase the risk of transmitting illness.
Other Things to Note
If you remove a tick and it tests positive for the Lyme causing bacteria, this does not mean that you have contacted Lyme disease. It usually takes up to 24-36 hours of feeding for the tick to spread bacteria to a human host. This is why early detection is key to preventing illness. Never delay visiting a doctor if you think you have contacted Lyme disease. Early treatment of Lyme is quite successful and the longer someone is undiagnosed, the greater risk of complication.