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Ticks are small, blood-feeding arthropods and a vector in the transmission of human infectious diseases, such as Lyme disease, babesiosis and human granulocytic anaplasmosis (HGA).
Diseases caused by ticks are becoming increasingly widespread, potentially due to climate change and human impact on tick habitats. Lyme disease, which is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, is the most common tick-borne disease in the United States. These infections can cause flu-like symptoms, fatigue, and muscle and joint pain, and can have long-term adverse health effects.
A recent national poll directed by Gary Freed at the University of Michigan found that parents are doubly concerned about disease transmission by ticks in comparison to mosquitoes. This could be due to a lack of knowledge on preventing tick bites and prompt tick removal. For this reason, it is necessary to consider how to prevent tick bites in order to protect yourselves and your families.
How to prevent tick bites
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) promote the following methods to prevent tick bites: wearing long-sleeved shirts and long trousers, using insect repellents, and examining yourselves for ticks in fields and wooded areas.
1. Avoid high-risk areas
It is vital that the public are careful when spending time in certain geographic areas, particularly low-lying brush, fields with overgrown vegetation, and wooded areas. These locations may have a high population of ticks, increasing the likelihood of being bitten by a tick. Avoid or take extra caution in areas with endemic Lyme disease.
2. Wear appropriate clothing
When planning outdoor activities, it is crucial to wear suitable clothing, including long sleeved shirts tucked into trousers, long trousers tucked into socks, and boots. This limits the exposure of your skin to the environment and potential tick attachment. The CDC recommends wearing light coloured clothing to swiftly detect ticks and remove them before they attach to the skin. Clothing should be checked every few hours while in a tick infested area and washed immediately after returning home.
3. Use insect repellent
Insect repellents may have a part in the prevention of tick-borne diseases by limiting contact between the human and the vector:
- DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) and PMD (p-menthane-3,8-diol) are effective, safe, and widely used synthetic repellents.
- Repellents containing Picaridin offers protection against ticks and is a reliable option for children who are more than two months of age.
- Permethrin is an effective repellent with low toxicity; however, it should not be applied directly on the skin, but only on clothing, tents, and sleeping bags.
- Although plant-based repellents are available, their effectiveness depends on the temperature and humidity of the environment.
- ‘Natural’ repellents, such as lemon eucalyptus oil, may also be useful to repel ticks.
It is important that you carry out research on repellent options and use one depending on the age of the user and location being visited.
4. Tick checks
A useful approach to consider in how to prevent tick bites is through ‘tick checks’. Self-examining the body and worn clothing is important after outings in areas with a higher incidence of tick bites. These checks should be carried out promptly since an infected tick normally has to remain attached to the skin for 24 hours or more before transmitting an infectious disease.
5. Rapid tick removal
If you are bitten by a tick even after carefully following these steps, you should ensure that the tick is rapidly removed. This can be done using fine forceps to grasp and pull the tick out of the skin. Although tick bites are usually painless, it is vital that you seek medical advice if you show symptoms including fever, rash, uncertainty if a tick is still attached to your skin, or a dark spot in the bite area. Freed stated, “Because some mosquitoes and ticks may carry certain diseases, parents should contact their child’s health care provider if their child develops fever, headache, or body aches within 3-14 days of a bite.” You should not kill a tick after attachment in case the GP needs to examine if it is disease-carrying.
Written by Albina Babu, MSc
A wide range of insect repellants are available at:
1. Wilson, K.D. and Elston, D.M. (2018). What’s eating you? Ixodes tick and related diseases, part 3: coinfection and tick-bite prevention. Cutis, 101(5), pp.328-330.
2. Pages, F., et al. (2014). Tick repellents for human use: prevention of tick bites and tick-borne diseases. Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, 14(2), pp.85-93.
3. Parents twice as likely to be concerned about ticks than of mosquitoes (June 15, 2020). Retrieved from: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-06/mm-u-pta061020.php
4. Due, C., et al. (2013). Tick bite prevention and tick removal. Bmj, 347.
5. Malouin, R., et al. (2003). Longitudinal evaluation of an educational intervention for preventing tick bites in an area with endemic lyme disease in Baltimore County, Maryland. American Journal of Epidemiology, 157(11), pp.1039-1051.
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