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Protecting Yourself from Lyme: Inspect, Inspect, Inspect

By Richard Bell 

There are bitter disagreements about the best way to treat Lyme disease. But there is no disagreement among tick fighters about the first line of defense:  

Do a Tick Inspection Whenever You May Have Been Around Ticks

Finding and removing any ticks after a jaunt outdoors is the top prevention priority. According to Andrew Hebda, zoologist at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, “from the time they land on you, female ticks can take up to 24 hours to climb into a feeding position. And once they start feeding, black-legged ticks need to be feeding for roughly 24 hours before they pass on Lyme disease.”  

Chemicals 

There are a number of “natural” or “organic” products for sale that claim to repel ticks, but there is very little information available on whether these products are effective.  

The most common commercial synthetic chemical defense against ticks is DEET, which is usually sold as an “insect repellent.” DEET can be harmful to humans, and should not be used on infants under 6 months. Veterinary doctors also sell products to keep ticks off dogs and cats.  

Many tick fighters now recommend a synthetic insecticide called permethrin, which can be applied to clothing. Permethrin is relatively safe for use by people, and is used in products for dogs. But permethrin is deadly for cats, honeybees, fish, and aquatic life.  

Fabrics, Tape, Socks, and Shoes 

In selecting clothing, pick light-colored fabrics that make it easier to see small ticks. Putting a ring of double-sided tape around the top of your socks will pick off ticks climbing up your socks. Tuck pants legs into socks, and shirts into waistbands. On the footwear front, skip those comfortable open-toed sandals. Rubber boots are good for working in the garden.  

And for one more layer of protection, after you’re done inspecting, take a long bath.  

(And don’t forget to inspect your pets!).  

Removing a Tick 

If you find a tick, you will need a pair of sharp-pointed tweezers. No matches, no nail polish remover—these older methods increase the odds that the tick will inject its disease load into your body immediately. Grasp the tick as close to the head as possible, and pull back very gently until the tick pops off. (Public health authorities no longer suggest that you save the tick for inspection later on, but if you do develop any symptoms, be sure to let your doctor know about any ticks you removed.)  

After you come indoors, there may be ticks that were still climbing into position to bite you in your clothing. Some authorities recommend running clothing through a hot dryer for at least 10-20 minutes as a way of killing off ticks that could be hidden in creases of your clothes.  

Government Web Sites 

Provincial: The Nova Scotia Health and Wellness Department has a web page devoted to Lyme Disease: http://novascotia.ca/dhw/cdpc/lyme.asp 

National Non-profit  

The Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation (CanLyme) is a volunteer-run non-profit charitable organization “dedicated to promoting research, education, diagnosis and treatment of Lyme and associated diseases” at: https://canlyme.com. 

Nova Scotia Lyme Disease Activists 

Donna Lugar manages a Facebook page on "Lyme Disease in Nova Scotia & the Maritime Provinces" at:  

Lugar also manages a very thorough Scoop It web page where she curates the latest news on Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses at:  

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