Lyme disease: How to protect yourself and your family

June 01, 2021
5 min read

WRITTEN BY

Carrie Hanley, PhD, MPH, CIC, manager, infection prevention & control, Mount Nittany Health


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With the arrival of warmer weather and summer approaching, many of us are getting back to outdoor activities like hiking, camping, taking the dog on longer walks, or just spending more time in the back yard.

While enjoying the outdoors, it’s important to be aware of deer ticks, which are common in Pennsylvania and can carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Lyme disease, which can develop after a deer tick bite, may cause a rash, often in a bull's-eye pattern, flu-like symptoms, and sometimes joint pain and weakness in the limbs. While most people with Lyme disease recover completely with appropriate antibiotic treatment, those who go undiagnosed and untreated can develop more serious symptoms.

Prevention is the best defense
The best way to protect yourself and your family against Lyme disease, and other tickborne illnesses, is to reduce your exposure to ticks. You can take several steps to prevent and control Lyme disease, both before you go outdoors and after you come back inside.

 Before heading outdoors:

  • Know where to expect ticks. Ticks live in grassy, brushy or wooded areas, so spending time outside walking your dog, camping, gardening, or hunting could bring you in close contact with ticks.
  • Use insect repellent approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • Treat clothing and gear (boots, clothing and camping gear) with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin. Permethrin can remain protective through several washings.

After being outdoors:

  • Check your clothing, gear, and pets for ticks. If you find any, remove them right away. To kill ticks on dry clothes, put them in a dryer on high heat for ten minutes. If the clothes need to be washed first, use hot water—cold and medium temperature water will not kill ticks.
  • Take a shower within two hours after being outside. This can reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease and may decrease the risk of other tickborne diseases. Showering can help wash off unattached ticks, and it’s a good opportunity to do a tick check.
  • Check your and your child’s bodies for ticks. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body, and pay special attention to hair, ears, under the arms, waist, and behind the knees.

What to do if you find a tick
If you find a tick attached to you or your child’s skin, there’s no need to panic—the key is to remove the tick as soon as possible. Your risk for Lyme disease is very low if a tick has been attached for fewer than 36 hours.

How to remove a tick:

  • Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.

  • Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, try to remove the mouth parts with tweezers. If you can’t remove them, leave the area alone and let the skin heal.

  • Don’t crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.

  • After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

Stay vigilant
It’s important to monitor for symptoms for 30 days after a tick bite. Call your healthcare provider if you or your child develop a rash or experience fever, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, or joint swelling and pain. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick. Most tickborne diseases, including Lyme disease, can be treated with a short course of antibiotics, but early diagnosis and treatment is key to preventing complications. 

This article originally appeared in State College Magazine.

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