Tick-borne Disease Prevention
Prevention of tick-borne illness hinges on preventing ticks from attaching and obtaining a blood meal from individuals. This can be accomplished by avoiding tick habitat, using personal protection methods, and changing the environment to reduce the presence of ticks.
Tick habitat avoidance
Adult ticks prefer high grass, low brush, or shrubs, where they can come in contact with a mammal (human, deer, dog, and etc.) for their next blood meal. Tick larval and nymph stages prefer shady, moist ground litter, stone walls, woodpiles, and etc. where they can contact a small rodent, mammal, or a sitting human for their next blood meal. Adult ticks perch on leaves of low brush or on grass stems awaiting the passing of a potential host. They recognize approaching humans or other mammals by movement, body heat, and carbon dioxide from exhaled breath. As the potential host moves by the tick, it crawls onto the host and proceeds to look for a place for attachment and feeding.
Using personal protection measures
If tick-infested areas cannot be avoided because of work or recreational activities, there are combinations of prevention steps that can be taken to reduce the possibility that ticks will reach the skin and attach for sufficient time to transmit the disease. Recommendations for personal protection are:
1. Wear shoes that cover the entire foot (no sandals), socks, and long pants. Long- sleeved shirts are also desirable.
- Pant legs should be stuffed into sock tops.
- Since ticks will climb upward on the outer surface of clothing looking for bare skin, it is best to wear light-colored clothing to make it easy to see crawling ticks and remove them.
- Hats will also help deter ticks from hiding in hair.
2. Use insect repellents with DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-touamide, or N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) on clothing and skin.
Facts about DEET:
DEET is available in various concentrations from a number of manufacturers. Concentrations of DEET between 10 percent and 30 percent are adequate for most occasions. A concentration of 10 percent protects for up to 2 hours, while a 30 percent concentration will protect for up to 5 hours. Concentrations above 50 percent do not increase length of protection.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, DEET solutions should not be used on children less than 2 months of age. Concentrations above 30% should not be used on infants and children.
When using DEET always follow the manufacturers’ recommendations appearing on the product label. Those recommendations include the following:
- Use enough repellent to cover exposed skin or clothing, but don’t apply repellent to skin that is under clothing. Heavy application is not necessary to achieve protection.
- Do not apply repellent to cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
- Do not spray aerosol or pump products in enclosed areas or near food or drink.
- Do not apply aerosol or pump products directly to your face, but instead, spray DEET on hands and then rub them carefully over the face, avoiding eyes and mouth.
- Do not apply DEET to the hands or around the eyes and mouth of young children.
- Wash treated skin with soap and water after returning indoors.
For additional guidance on use of the use of insect repellents, click here.
3. Apply permethrin to clothing or mosquito nets. Unlike DEET, permethrin is an insecticide that kills insects that come into contact with it. Permethrin kills or stuns insects that touch treated fabric. Permethrin is available under several brand names.
Facts about Permethrin:
When using permethrin follow the manufacturers’ label directions closely when treating fabric. It will adhere to fabric through several washings, and remains effective without harming or staining the fabric.
Permethrin is biodegradable and does not accumulate in the environment, but it is toxic to fish and other aquatic life and must not be disposed of in a manner that would contaminate waterways.
Recommendations for use:
- Do not apply to skin – For use on clothing, bed nets, tent, and other fabric surfaces only. If you get any on your skin in the application process, wash with soap and water immediately.
- Follow manufacturer’s recommendation for application.
- Apply to clothing and other fabrics in a well-ventilated area, preferably outdoors, protected from the wind.
- Do not apply to clothing while wearing them, allow clothing to fully air dry after applying permethrin.
- Wash and store treated clothing separate from other clothing.
4. Conduct a thorough body check for ticks at the end of the day. A warm soapy shower will help remove ticks, but a visual search of the body is essential to ensure all ticks have been removed. The larval and nymph ticks are much smaller than adult ticks and can easily be missed, especially in hair.
If a tick is attached to the skin, it can be removed with either tweezers or forceps by grasping the tick by the head, right at skin level. Remove the tick by pulling firmly and steadily upward. Ticks should not be removed with bare fingers, but if tweezers or forceps are not available, tissue paper or a paper towel can be used to prevent the passing of any possible infection.
Reducing tick populations with environmental measures
Populations of deer ticks, as well as other ticks, can be reduced around the home with minor landscaping changes that reduce shade and moisture. Landscaping efforts that have shown to be effective are:
- Keeping grass mowed short and removing tall weeds.
- Removing underbrush and leaf litter in woody or shady areas.
- Reduce tick population by removing harborages were rodents, a prime source for a blood meal, can live.
- Treating pets to remove and prevent tick attachment, which can bring infected ticks into the home.
In severe cases of tick infestation in residential areas, a single application of insecticide on the lawn or in other tick infected areas can be very effective in reducing the tick population. Prior to taking this step, individuals should discuss the appropriate insecticide and the application rate with a licensed pesticide applicator.