Tick Troubles?


June 16, 2012 by Kimberly Beauchamp, ND

Dear Doctor Mama,

We live in an area with lots of deer ticks. I’m concerned about my daughter getting Lyme disease, but I’m also worried about putting chemicals on her. What should I do?

~Lisa W. in MA

© juggernautco (flickr)

Dear Lisa,

Lyme disease is a real problem in many areas, especially along the East coast and around the Great Lakes.

While you can’t (and wouldn’t want to!) avoid being outdoors all together, there are some precautions that you can take to lower your family’s risk of getting this pesky and sometimes persistent disease.

In general, I don’t like using synthetic chemicals. But sometimes, some of them have their place. Preventing Lyme disease is one of those places.

Unfortunately, herbal-based insect repellents have not been proven to prevent tick bites. If you live in an endemic area, it’s worth using something that you know really works.

I’m not suggesting using toxic chemicals on your child. Instead, you can treat their clothing. Wearing tick repellent clothing is infinitely safer than putting insect repellent directly on the skin.

This year is particularly bad for ticks (or good, if you’re a tick). Where there were 30 deer ticks per chipmunk last year, this year there are 70!

Here are a few things to think about for Lyme disease prevention.

  • Preventing tick bites is FAR easier than treating a tick-borne infection.
  • Wearing clothes and shoes that have been treated with permethrin is the single best way to prevent tick bites.
  • Regarding permethrin safety, the EPA states that “there is reasonable certainty that permethrin-treated clothing poses no harm to infants and children.”
  • Since ticks climb up, treating footwear is most important. Since kids sit on the ground, treating pants is second most important.
  • Sawyer makes a permethrin spray for treating apparel, as well as a soak for treating whole outfits more quickly. This is what I use: Sawyer Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent.
  • Treated clothing and footwear will maintain their effectiveness for six weeks, or through six washing/drying cycles.
  • DEET is toxic to children and should be avoided (in my opinion).
  • Picaridin (a relatively safe chemical insect repellent found in products like Natrapel) is not effective against ticks.

What else can you do?

  • Stay on cleared paths. Ticks love leaf litter, so don’t give them a biting chance by hanging out on the ground, on rotten logs, or along edges (the zone between two adjacent habitats, like along the border of a yard and the woods).
  • Do daily tick checks. Inspect your children (and yourself) every day, concentrating around the “hot zones” — the arm pits, backs of the knees, around the waistband, groin, and along the hairline. Remember, these buggers are TINY. It’s crazy what a parent can notice, though. “Hey! You didn’t have that micron on you yesterday!”
  • Remove ticks immediately. If you see an attached tick, clean the area with rubbing alcohol and remove the tick as close to its head as possible using a pair of fine-point tweezers. Clean with alcohol again, and apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment.
  • Dry, then wash. Ticks are super sensitive to low humidity. Lower your chance of being bitten by tossing your clothes in the dryer on high for 10 minutes; then wash and dry them as usual.
  • Don’t delay. Doctors are just now recognizing how widespread Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are. If you think you or a family member might have been exposed to Lyme, see a knowledgable doctor right away. The sooner you get treatment, the better your chances of curing the infection completely.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this blog is for educational and/or informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or provide treatment for any condition. If you have any concerns about your own health or that of a family member, you should always consult with a healthcare professional.

2 thoughts on “Tick Troubles?

  1. Wendi says:

    After I read this post a while back I ordered the Sawyer Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent you recommended to be prepared for ticks this spring. About 3 weeks ago, we went for a family hike in Tiverton, RI. We had snow earlier in the week, so I didn’t think we needed to worry about ticks. The following day, the school pulled a wood tick off my son’s head! Two weeks later, we discovered the bulls eye rash on his buttock from another deer tick bite and he’s now being treated for Lyme’s Disease.

    The ticks are out and Lyme’s Disease is a real threat, so be prepared with repellent and be vigilant about tick checks!

    • Thanks for sharing this, Wendi. I’m so sorry your son has to go through treatment. He’s lucky you found the rash, though, as many people never develop it, making the diagnosis more elusive.
      It’s easy to forget about these little buggers, especially when there’s still snow on the ground! I used to do field work out on the flood plain of a local river and I remember coming home with more than a dozen deer ticks on me after trudging around out there with several inches on snow on the ground in mid-January. I think the warmer layers of the marshy areas under the snow cover made it possible for them to survive throughout the winter there.
      I sprayed my girls’ boots last week. Onto the rest of the shoes this weekend…

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The information contained in this blog is for educational and/or informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any condition. If you have any concerns about your own health or that of a family member, you should always consult with a healthcare professional.

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