I may be a little too nonchalant about ticks as I grew up in southern Massachuttes where they are as common as Dunkin Donuts and Red Sox fans. But some things have changed. First, Lyme Disease is becoming more prevalent and spreading. Check out the interactive map from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) here and see how it has spread over 10 years! Ten years ago the White Mountains did not see any cases of Lyme disease, but as the map indicates it has reached us, so it’s time to learn how to protect yourself, and most importantly your little ones, from this disease!
Right after taking this picture my wife spotted Alex’s first tick… can you see it?
First you should be able to recognize the Blacklegged Tick (also called the deer tick). Most transmissions are from nymph’s because they are harder to see.
The good news is it usually takes 24-48 hours of attachment for a tick to transmit the disease! With regular full body checks (bath time/pajama time) you should not panic if you find an attached tick!
Tick season in the White Mountains is from May to September. The best defense is a 3 pronged approach. Defend your kids, defend your pets, and defend your yard. Let’s start with the first line of defense, the yard!
This is taken directly from the CDC website:
Create a Tick-Safe Zone Through Landscaping
You can make your yard less attractive to ticks depending on how you landscape. Here are some simple landscaping techniques that can help reduce tick populations:
- Clear tall grasses and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns.
- Place a 3-ft wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas and around patios and play equipment. This will restrict tick migration into recreational areas.
- Mow the lawn frequently and keep leaves raked.
- Stack wood neatly and in a dry area (discourages rodents that ticks feed on).
- Keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees and place them in a sunny location, if possible.
- Remove any old furniture, mattresses, or trash from the yard that may give ticks a place to hide.
While there are pesticides that are effective at controlling tick populations we prefer the natural battle first. If you live in a very high risk area it might be worth investigating an early Spring treatment with an acaracide (tick pesticide), such as bifenthin.
Protect your pets!
Our canine and feline friends can easily transport ticks from outside to in, so during tick season there are a few things that can reduce the risk. The above yard landscaping is a great first defense. Then a quick brush and check every time your pet comes inside from playing in the yard can find ticks before they find a good hiding space to attach. Tick & flea baths and repellents will go far at reducing risk. For more info on protecting your pets check out this page on the CDC website.
Protect your yourself and your little ones!
The CDC’s first recommendation is “Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter”. This is near impossible for a family that hikes as much as we do. It just isn’t going to happen. So for us early detection is key. Remember it takes 24-48 hours of attachment for a tick to transmit the disease! I check Alex as best as possible when we get back to the car, then again at home.
While DEET is approved for babies over 2 months old we feel it is too toxic for us to feel comfortable applying it to our thumb sucking toddler but you can not argue it’s effectiveness. For this reason I use this 30% formula on myself when mosquito’s and tick’s are in abundance. For the absolute best protection I am a huge fan of Permethrin.
SAWYER PERMETHRIN INSECT REPELLANT, 24 OZ.
I’ve used this in jungles in South America and Asia, and obviously in the White Mountains. It’s 100% safe when used correctly. This is NOT FOR SKIN! It is meant to treat clothing, gear, footwear, etc. Once it dries there is zero chance of this “leeching” into your skin. I use it on my hiking shoes and pants, and Alex’s hiking shoes’s and pants. I also treated our kid carrier so when I set it down on the ground he has protection.
For information on the safeness of this product on kids (and us) check out this page from the University of Rhode Island. You can pick it up at your local Eastern Mountain Sports or online here. More information on this, and some other tips from the CDC can be found here.
Finally, when you find an embedded tick (and chances are you will at some point), know how to remove it. Improperly removing it can increase risk of infection. All you need is a pair of tweezers. Grasp as close to your skin as possible and pull straight out by slowly increasing pressure.
Mistakes like twisting/jerking can cause some of the tick to stay in the skin. If one or both of the “pinchers” stay in do not try to dig them out. Your, or your child’s, body will naturally push them out over a few days but monitor the bite site for any signs of infection, which would require a trip to see the Doc. I would think it would go without saying but do not use a match or lighter on an embedded tick. This can cause it to regurgitate it’s meal, greatly increasing transmission and infection. Once it’s removed wash with soap and water and go back outside to play!
I hope this information helps! While Lyme disease is no joke it shouldn’t keep us from hiking and climbing in areas where ticks may be prevalent. It takes time for a tick to find a spot to embed, and much more time to transmit the disease. Twice daily checks reduces the risk of catching Lyme disease to around the odds of winning PowerBall!
Comment below if you have any suggestions or thoughts on the topic! We’d love to hear from you!