Those of us with Tick Borne Diseases know all too well the internal conflict. Sunshine calls us outside where into the warmth while at the very same time our arch nemeses, ticks, begin looking for hosts to feed on. I don’t know about you, but I’ve actually headed with joy to the lawn only to find myself hanging ten over the edge of my driveway, toes curled around the blacktop, as I suddenly realized the potential hazards ahead! With my heart pounding, I back away slowly. I stare out over the sea of soft new grass and all I see is the perfect hiding ground for ticks.
Over the years I’ve learned two vital truths about myself and the coming of spring:
- I know that I will be anxious, to some degree, about the bacteria loaded ticks which are prevalent in my area.
- The sooner I take precautions to protect myself and my family, the sooner I can get out into the sunshine and enjoy the beauty that is Northeast PA.
The first action on my list is to buy two cans of tick repellant with ingredients approved by the EPA and proven to be effective for repelling ticks. One can sits by the kitchen door to be applied every time I head outside. My family is less vigilant. I can often be seen chasing my adult sons with a can of spray with DEET as they head out to mow the lawn! The other can goes in the trunk of the car for unplanned nature encounters (non-aerosol is better for this). I also like to carry tick repellant towelettes which contain Picardin in my pocketbook (available through AVON as Bug Guard).
Ticks, of course, are not insects and therefore insect repellant is not going to be effective in repelling them. They are arachnids and require a very specific approach. There are currently four tested and approved repellants on the market today as outlined by Bob Oley in Tick Talk with Bob Oley, published online at TBDAlliance.org.
- Organic Lemon Eucalyptus Oil
Says Bob, “If any of these ingredients are in your tick repellent, you can feel reasonably confident the repellent will work to repel ticks. To be sure, check the product label, which must state that it repels ticks. If it does not, choose another product that does.” Regardless of which repellant you use, make sure you understand the application and reapplication requirements. DEET must have contact with the skin, for example, in order to be effective. (Tick Talk with Bob Oley). Bob Oley’s article is one of the most informative I have found and offers suggestions which are reasonable and accessible. http://tbdalliance.org/index.php/getinformed/tick-talk
Another thing we do routinely is treat the yard with a substance that will kill the ticks before they can ever make it onto the dog or into our home. There are some good lawn sprays out there. Some people find success with food grade diatomaceous earth. Read all containers carefully to make sure it kills ticks. Check for child and pet safety, and pay attention to reapplication requirements. Speaking of dogs, our dog has thick black fur which makes tick checks very difficult. To help protect him and us we do tick checks in addition to topical monthly tick treatments. Your vet can recommend a good product for your particular furry friend.
I have removed the birdfeeders from my lawn which has greatly reduced all kinds of tick taxi traffic in my yard. I do miss the birds, but it’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make. We have far fewer chipmunks, squirrels, birds, deer, and the occasional bear – all known carriers of ticks.
Skin checks are a vital part of any tick prevention effort. I always examine my skin and hair after being outdoors. I look for poppy seed sized nymphs or larger attached hitch hikers. I wear lighter colors when I can so that the ticks are more easily seen before they have a chance to latch on for lunch, and I avoid leaf clutter, stone walls, and tall grasses whenever possible.
I have tick removal kits with testing mailers on hand just in case one gets ahold of somebody. I like the Lyme-Aid Kit, but there are other methods for testing on the market, too. After watching and hearing about some doctors throwing carefully saved ticks into the trash I have learned to never offer them up as evidence to anyone but a tick testing lab. I advise my friends to do this as well. I also advise people to take a photo of the tick and the site of the tick bite to prove attachment (and therefore risk). If a rash develops anywhere on the body I advise them to take pictures of these, too, with a date stamp if possible.
The coming of spring still gives me the heebie geebies, but knowing how to protect myself and my family helps me recover from the panic much more quickly than before. Remembering that I know what to do keeps me grounded. I refuse to let the cursed ticks that have done so much damage make me a prisoner in my own home. They have already taken a lot. I draw the line at sunshine and gardens.
(This piece was originally published in April, 2016, on Chronically Determined.)