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Tick Prevention and Proper Tick Removal

Posted May 31 2011 12:00am

Perhaps everything you've heard about Lyme Disease makes you wish you lived in a bubble. I totally get it. That's exactly how I feel and as a mom, knowing what I know about Lyme makes me want to keep my children locked indoors! But obviously that isn't healthy, so today I want to talk about prevention and, since prevention is not always possible, how to remove ticks safely. It is important to note that many other insects have been found to carry dangerous bacteria as well, including mosquitoes, flies, mites, fleas and spiders. The purpose of this post focuses on tick prevention and removal, but if you've been bit by any of these, it is still important to watch for a rash, flu-like symptoms, fatigue or any other unusual symptoms that come up and won't go away.

Tick Prevention
We can't stay inside forever! So, it is important to know how to protect yourself when going outside. Here are a few things you can do to help prevent picking up a tick: Keep hair pulled back and whenever possible, wear a hat. Wear light colors so that you can see a tick if it gets on your clothing. Wear long pants, tucking them into your socks, and wear long sleeves whenever possible. Wear an insect repellent on your clothes, as well as your skin. Some repellents can be pretty toxic, so be sure to research your options. In my research, I found many recommendations for Permethrin , which is supposed to be effective and safer than Deet, which is often recommended as a repellent, but also very toxic.

Pets need protection too! Tick collars are available for family pets from your veterinarian.

Avoid wooded areas, keep your yard free of leaves, weeds and debris and keep your lawn cut short. Use wood chips or rocks to keep your property separated from wooded areas. Keep garbage cans tightly closed to keep disease-carrying animals and rodents away from your home. There are pesticides you can use on your lawn to prevent ticks, but again, do your research before choosing one because toxic chemicals aren't good for you either! Here is a great document , describing effective landscaping ideas to reduce the amount of ticks on your lawn. For the landscaping information, skip down to pages 40-60. I have included an illustration from this document to the left that illustrates landscaping ideas to reduce tick activity and exposure.

Check for Ticks
Whenever you come in from the outdoors, you should do a self-exam to make sure you did not pick up a tick. Ticks come in a variety of sizes, as large as a pencil eraser or so small you can barely see it. They will often crawl to warm, moist places like the hair, armpits and groin, so pay special attention when checking these areas. Also, the family pet could pick up ticks easily and bring them into your home. If you are a pet owner, you should check your pet frequently for ticks. It is important to do these checks daily, because the longer the tick is attached, the greater the chance of infection.

Extra Steps
Just to be safe, take a shower shortly after you return indoors. This should dislodge any ticks quickly and easily. Also, you should throw your clothes into the dryer and run them on high heat. This will kill off any ticks. Washing them is not enough.

Tick Removal
If you have been bit by a tick, you may have received plenty of advice from others on how to deal with it, including plenty of wrong ways to remove it, like heating it with a lighter or smothering it with petroleum jelly or nail polish. These options are dangerous and ineffective in preventing the transfer of the dangerous bacteria a tick can carry.

Pointy tweezers, not blunt-edged, are best for tick removal (see an example pictured to the right.) You can find them at most drugstores. If spend a lot of time outdoors or are planning a camping trip or a hike, I recommend picking up a pair.

To properly remove a tick, use pointy tweezers to gently grab the head, or as close as you can to the head. Do not squeeze! Do not twist! Just gently apply pressure and pull up very slowly. Here is an excellent video showing the proper removal of a tick:

*UPDATE: I was introduced to a product that's been on the market for several years, called the O'Tom Tick Twister. You can view it and, if you are interested, purchase it here . They have a great video on how it works. I'm ordering a few to have on hand and for family and friends! 

Initial Symptoms
Some people will see an erythema migrans, or round rash that expands outward, but many won't. Initial symptoms may include: flu-like symptoms, exhaustion, joint pain, headache, depression and fever. Since these symptoms can be applied to many illnesses, the correct diagnosis is often missed. Meanwhile, the bacteria buries deeper and deeper into the tissue, causing problems with the nervous system, joints, heart, brain and more. It becomes very difficult to treat at this point, so early detection is key.

Misdiagnosis and Advanced Lyme Disease
It is not uncommon for people to be unaware that they were even bit by a tick. This is why many, many people become chronically ill and don't know what is happening to them.

If Lyme Disease is caught quickly, it is treatable. If it is left untreated, people become very, very sick and it becomes exceedingly difficult to treat. Please spread the word so that others can learn how they can prevent Lyme Disease.

If you suspect that you or someone you know has Lyme Disease and you would like to get tested, contact your Primary Physician. If he or she refuses to test, which many do (as I've mentioned before), contact the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society or the Turn The Corner Foundation . These organizations will recommend a doctor in your area that is Lyme-Friendly and Lyme-Literate. Please let me know if you have any questions. I am here to help!

*If you have any other recommendations on this topic, please leave them in the comment section below.
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