Advice from the Trenches: Tick!!

tickDear C;

I almost didn’t notice the small black dot under the top rim of Caitlin’s ear until she rubbed at it and said, “My ear feels funny!” I bent down to look and nearly shrieked – it was one of those nasty ticks, and it must have been there for at least a day because it was beginning to swell. I remembered to remove it with a pair of tweezers, taking care not to squeeze it, then doused the area with hydrogen peroxide. We took Caitlin to the doctor … thank goodness she didn’t have Lyme Disease! But now I am scared. What can I do to prevent her from picking up more ticks besides keeping her inside all summer? I hate the idea of dousing her with chemical repellents. Help!

Pamela in a Panic

No need to panic, Pamela. Not all ticks carry Lyme Disease, and it sounds like your daughter picked up a dog tick, not a deer tick, which is the most common carrier of Lyme. Deer Ticks are very tiny, and reddish brown in color. But you are right to be concerned – the number of people getting diseases transmitted by mosquito, tick and flea bites has more than tripled in the United States in recent years, and now we have new viruses such as Heartland Virus and Zika to add to the mix. Fortunately, the NYTimes just came out with updated tips to offer outdoor enthusiasts and concerned parents.

  1. Your clothing is your first line of defense. If you are concerned about chemical pesticides, then make this a priority. Cover up even when it’s hot outside. Long pants, long sleeves and shoes and socks may sound counter-intuitive in 90 degree weather, but it works. Tuck those pants into your socks to block entry at the ankles, and wear a hat. If you have long hair, braid it or tie it back. For those who want added protection, you can now buy clothes treated with permethrin, which repels both mosquitoes and (to a lesser degree) ticks. Or, you could simply opt for a Hazmat suit and respirator. Just kidding. Sort of.
  2. You are right to be hesitant to use repellent on babies under 2 months, but you may want to reconsider when it comes to your older kids. According to the CDC, only DEET, picaridin and IR3535 are effective agents against ticks. If you want to do the research, Wirecutter (a NYTimes product review site) has a list of the best bug repellents. Parents: Apply the repellents to children yourself, and avoid putting it on their hands and near their eyes or mouths. If you’re also using sunscreen, apply that first, and then the mosquito repellent afterward.
  3. When your kids come in from outdoors, go over them with a magnifying glass and fine-toothed comb. As you noticed, ticks hide in folds of skin, behind knees and in your hair. Once they get on you, they can travel anywhere. Do not spare the private parts or belly buttons, and use a mirror if you are checking yourself.
  4. A shower will help wash any creepy crawlers away, but if they have dug in, you know the drill – grab the tick as close to it’s mouth as possible, and gently pull straight out, without twisting or squeezing the body. Douse the bite area with hydrogen peroxide or other disinfectant, and, if you can, seal the tick in a plastic bag. Its body can speed a diagnosis, and early detection is crucial – if caught before full onset, a mere 14 to 21 day course of antibiotics can prevent the disease from becoming a chronic nightmare. So, be alert after a bite! If you or your kids have any of these symptoms, go immediately to the nearest ER: fever, headache, confusion, weakness or paralysis, numbness, vomiting, difficulty breathing or palpitations.
  5. You can help create a no-tick zone in your backyard by using fencing to keep out tick bearing deer. Trim your trees, mow your grass, and clear all the clutter and overgrowth from the outdoor areas you use the most. For those who favor better living through chemicals, use sprays as well – I recommend you check with your local or county health department website to learn more about current conditions. If you prefer that your yard be treated for ticks with environmentally safe methods, consult a nursery or health office for advice.

Warming temperatures and more unpredictable weather (especially in the northern states) is making the tick population increase quickly. They are showing up in places that were once thought to be too cold for them to survive. Seemingly unrelated factors, such as changes in bird flight patterns, have allowed ticks to hitch free air lifts, carrying them to new places. In addition, construction has driven wild animals, including deer, to the suburbs to forage for food, and every critter brings ticks with them. So – to keep summer fun, keep your guard up and your cuffs down.

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