Watch Out for Ticks!
It’s a regular part of our summer bedtime routine—my two kids sitting cross-legged on the floor, heads bent forward while I meticulously search through their thick, black locks for ticks.
New Hampshire Numbers
Recent news about Lyme disease in New Hampshire reminds me that this vigilance is well-founded: According to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the number of New Hampshire residents who have reported being diagnosed with Lyme disease went up in 2007 by 43 percent—a total of 892 cases. The highest rates of the disease occurred in Rockingham, Strafford, Hillsborough, Merrimack, and Carroll Counties.
Furthermore, researchers from the University of New Hampshire found that a significant number of ticks collected in southern New Hampshire carried the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease: 50 percent of ticks collected around Lee and Durham and 70 percent of ticks from Concord!
Lyme disease has caused an estimated 20,000 infections in the U.S. each year. These infections are usually—but not always—marked by a red, circular, expanding rash around the bite, fever, headache, fatigue, stiff neck, and muscle and/or joint pain. These symptoms usually begin within 30 days of being bitten by a tick. If not treated, the infection can lead to complications in the nervous system, heart, and joints.
The disease is caused by bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, that are transmitted by the ticks when they bite you. Only the black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, carry this bacteria. And while this tick has not been found in northern New Hampshire, their numbers are increasing in southern New Hampshire, according to DHHS. These ticks have a two-year life cycle and are active early spring into late fall. The adults are most active in October-November, according to University of New Hampshire entymologist Alan Eaton.
Keep Your Family Safe
So how can you still enjoy the great outdoors this summer without exposing yourself to this threat? Use these tips:
- Make your yard tick-unfriendly. Deer ticks love leaves, debris, and long grass. Keep your grass short and clear brush away from frequently used areas. And by the way, free-ranging poultry, especially chickens and guinea fowl, make great tick patrols.
- When you do venture into tick territory—less manicured areas and woods—prevent them from getting to your skin: Wear long pants, tucked into your socks, and tuck your shirt into your waist as well. You can also spray 20 to 50 percent DEET on clothing and skin or treat your clothing with permethrin (not for skin!). For those of you concerned about DEET’s potential health effects, rose geranium oil, soy oil, and garlic have all been reported to keep ticks at bay—although they may need more frequent applications.
- When you return home, try this technique called by our family “brushing off.” Starting with our heads we use our hands to brush away at our hair, neck, armpits, arms, groin, legs, and finally feet—just as a precaution to dislodge any ticks that have gotten through our defenses. A couple times we’ve seen one drop and start crawling away.
- Finally, once indoors, perform a thorough tick check. Use extra care when looking around the scalp, behind the ears, and in the armpits and groin. These are ticks’ favorite hiding spots.
The ticks you’re looking for are extremely tiny—no bigger than a poppy seed—and dark. If you do find one attached, use a pair of tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and firmly pull it off. Do not use a match, petroleum jelly, or nail polish since these methods may only increase the chance that the tick will transfer the bacteria into you. Clean the bite with an antibacterial agent like Neosporin or tea tree oil, after removal.
Quick detection and removal is key. If you remove the tick within the first 24 hours, your chance of infection is extremely small. However, remain vigilant for any symptoms since early diagnosis can mean a better chance for a full and speedy recovery.
by Sarah Clachar