Lyme Disease Prevention: 5 Tips to Be Tick Smart

Lyme Disease is no longer a Northeast problem.  It’s a nationwide issue.  While the CDC reports that nearly 300,000 new cases of Lyme Disease are reported each year, I estimate that the number is far greater.  And while I do not advocate staying indoors and avoiding the great outdoors all together, I do recommend that you take a few common sense precautions before, during, and after you head out to enjoy the world around you:

1.     Dress Appropriately

I have watched far too many children and adults camp and hike in shorts, flip flops, and tank tops.  I am always left scratching my head.  Wearing appropriate clothing while enjoying outdoor activities is the easiest prevention tip to follow.

  • Wear a hat – Ticks love to hide in hard to find spots: behind the ears, armpits, groin areas, and in your head.  If you have a dark head of hair, finding a minuscule tick hiding in your mane could be next to impossible.  Wear a cap or camping hat to reduce the risk of ticks meandering about your head.
  • Wear pants – No one wants to wear pants in the summer; I totally get it.  However, your legs are the number one part of your body that should be covered while hiking or camping.  They will likely be the first parts of you to come into contact with ticks as you brush against trees, branches, tall grass, and bushes.  My kids wear lightweight, track style pants or lightweight camping pants.  The advancements in clothing are nothing short of amazing.  Lightweight, breathable, moisture-wicking, SPF certified clothing is readily available to provide both coverage and comfort.
  • Wear long socks – I hate long socks.   I’m the first to admit it.  But ankle socks or peds just won’t cut it while camping and hiking.
  • Tuck your pant legs into your socks – No, this is not terribly fashionable, but it is highly effective.  Case in point, we were hiking a few weeks ago.  When we arrived home we found several microscopic ticks attached to one of my son’s socks.  Had he not been wearing high socks or had not tucked his pants into his socks, those ticks would have likely found a comfy home on his ankle or leg and would have started chowing down.
  • Wear a shirt with sleeves – Even in the hottest conditions, we wear long sleeved shirts while hiking.  We’ve invested in a good quality, lightweight, moisture-wicking, breathable shirt for each of our children.  These shirts allow them to remain cool and covered.  At a minimum, you should wear short sleeved shirts.  Avoid tank tops .
  • Wear appropriate footwear – Flip flops and sandals just don’t cut it.  Opt for hiking boots.  Even putting the tick issue aside, hiking boots are designed for your safety, providing traction, grip, and support over varying terrain.

2.       Stay on the Trail

While hiking, choose to stay on the marked trails.  Often times these trails are maintained by park service personnel.  In addition, with regular foot traffic, these trails stay clear of thick brush, high grass, and overgrown bushes.  Cleared trails provide a bit of space between you and those favorite tick hangouts.  Once you meander off the trail and onto unblazed territories, you will likely be walking through unkempt areas where ticks love to call home.   Grab a trail map and stay on the trail.  Here are some examples of good and not-so-good trails:

Good
Better
Best
Beautiful but not so good.
Really, you’re thinking of hiking here?

 

3.      Use a Good Quality Tick Spray

I am pretty cautious about chemicals.  While DEET is an effective deep woods option, it is also highly toxic.  I’ve avoided the use of traditional bug and tick sprays all together.  A friend of mine recommended a cedar based spray.  We’ve used it for years and it has proven to be highly effective.  It is expensive but so is treating an undiagnosed tick bite.  We use TickShield Tactical by Owens Organics.  I receive NO compensation for this recommendation.  I simply use it, like it, and have found it to be effective.  I recommend spraying both skin and clothing.

 

4.       Strip, Shower, Check

This is our family’s tick check routine.  After a time of camping, hiking, or extended outdoor time,  we follow these three simple steps.

(A)  Immediately go to the laundry room.  Strip down to your underwear, and place all of your clothing into the washing machine.  Look for any obvious ticks on your body.

(B)  Take a shower.  Use a washcloth to scrub.  Wash your hair thoroughly.

(C)  Before getting fully dressed have someone do a tick check.  A secondary person needs to carefully look over the back, neck, legs, feet, toes, head, behind ears, armpits, and arms.   Ticks can be tiny…as small as a pinhead, a fleck of dirt, or a dot on a piece of paper.  Sometimes they can be larger and more obvious.  Look each and every time.  It only takes one missed tick check to miss a tick.

5.     Use Common Sense

Don’t think that it won’t happen to you.  Don’t think that a tick is no big deal.  Don’t think that some people are simply paranoid, crazy tick lunatics.  Don’t think that Lyme Disease is no big deal.  Remember, the people writing these types of posts, the people tucking their pants into their socks, the people being adament about staying on a trail, are often the people whose lives have been forever changed by a single tick bite.  Heed their warning and advice.  None of us want to see anyone of you incapacitated.  An undetected tick bite today can cause debilitation five or ten years down the road.

You can read more posts from Life in the Van regarding Lyme Disease here.  Work from the bottom of the page, upward.


Letting Down Your Guard

Yesterday morning my 14 year old son came down stairs visibly flustered.  “There’s a tick stuck in me.”  I squinted and strained my eyes to try and decipher what I was actually looking at.  This was a speck, no bigger than a grain of sand or the tip of a pin;  it could easily be mistaken for an ordinary skin mole or a fleck of dirt.  After several minutes I concluded that this little dot was indeed a tick embedded in his shoulder.

Me.  My kids.  We have a history with ticks.

The ironic part of this episode was that just two days earlier I was speaking to a friend telling her that I felt so fortunate that I have never had to pull embedded ticks out of my children.  “The Lord must know that I would not be able to handle it;  He must know that I would get a little crazy.”  Well, fast forward to today.  One child, one embedded tick.  Oh, the irony.

Lyme Disease has just become part of our lives.  It’s what our family lives with.  We’ve become careful and always take precautions.  We have our little routine; we have a dress code when outdoors.  We still camp; we still hike; we still live.  We have our guard up, and in doing so, we have managed to remain tick free.  We’ve protected ourselves and remained vigilant.  But not this time.

I spent nearly an hour trying to gently remove that tick.  Try as I may I could not extricate that little bugger from my son’s shoulder.  Knowing when to stop, I called the doctor and asked them to make room on the schedule for us.  They did.  As we were driving to the office, my son confessed:

“Mom, I was rolling around in the grass yesterday.  I was in shorts and a tank top.  I didn’t change my clothes when I came in.  I didn’t shower.  I didn’t have you check me out.”

That was one of those situations as a parent where not much else needed to be said.  He knew he had dropped the ball on this one.  He had ignored everything that he knew he should do: dress appropriately, change immediately, shower, and get a tick check.

I know, I know.  You’re probably thinking:  “Relax, lady!  The kid was just rolling in the grass.”

Well, we live in tick-central.   Sometimes rolling in the grass is not so cut and dry.  Knowing this, we keep up our guard and are diligent with what we know we should do.  And, when we follow the “protocol”, we can not only have fun, and, yes, roll in the grass, but we can remain safe while doing it.

The problem occurs when we let our guard down, when we don’t do what we know we should.

It’s pretty easy to let our guard down in everyday life.  How simple it is to sidestep doing what we know we should.  We grow tired of the routine.  We feel bogged down.  We want to scream, “I just want to live without having to do this or that.” And then when something unfortunate happens, we want to kick ourselves because we dropped the ball.

Today’s little episode immediately took my mind to this verse:

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

Have you ever watched one of those nature shows where they track a hunting lion.  Hunting lions are rather patient.  They wait for just the right time to pounce.  They scope out their prey and observe.  They watch for that one split second when their guard is let down, and then they seize the moment, and go in for the kill.

That’s kind of what happens when we let our guard down.  It only takes a moment of weakness for things to go horribly wrong.  It takes a tiny little crack in the door for someone to gain a foothold and bring the whole door down.  Satan waits like that patient lion.  He waits for just the right opportunity to bring us down.  He waits for the moment of weakness.  He waits for us to let down our guard, and then he latches on.  That ultra, microscopic tick was the perfect picture of this.

As I walked outside with my husband this morning, I paused and stared.

“What are you looking at?”, he asked.

“The grass,”  I answered.  “Underneath that beautiful green blanket likely hides millions of ticks on our lawn, their lawn, that lawn…everyone’s lawn  There’s really no way to avoid them.  We’ve got to live with them and keep up our guard.”

While it’s too hot to require my kids to play outside in a full snowsuit, or wear a wet suit to romp around in the yard, or dress in a full coat of armor, I am reminded that there is one coat of armor I am told to dress in everyday.  It is to protect me and remind me to be prepared and be on guard.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,  and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Ephesians 6:10-18

So keep up your guard….and check your kids for ticks too!