Lyme Disease is becoming more widespread in Maine
PREVENTION OF TICK-BORNE DISEASES
by C.Dickey RN
Lyme disease is a potentially preventable disease. Learning to practice good tick hygiene is becoming as important as wearing a seat belt, life jacket, or bike helmet. Making it convenient in your life to use the equipment needed to protect yourself and your family from tick bites is crucial for easy compliance.
The longer a tick is attached, the higher the risk of getting a tick-borne disease. Some of the most conservative literature states that a tick must be attached for 24-36 hours to transmit Lyme disease; however, there are published reports of transmission in just a few hours. Some other tick-borne diseases take a much shorter time to be transmitted than Lyme disease. Tick bites are more prevalent in the summer months but ticks do not hibernate and can be active any time the temperature is above 36 degrees. Lyme disease has been reported year round – even during the winter months. Most tick bites are acquired around one’s home, according to the Tick Management Handbook, by Connecticut entomologist Kirby Stafford III, Ph.D.
Some important guidelines in preventing a tick bite are:
- Avoid tick infested areas – know tick habitat
- Wear light colored clothing with your pants tucked into your socks, shirt tucked into your pants and long sleeves.
- Apply approved DEET products (or one of the newer products that have been proven to be as effective as DEET) to exposed skin areas as recommended on the product label. It is not recommended to apply repellents to small children’s faces and hands.
- When finished with the outdoor activity, remove clothing and shower to wash off repellent and any loose ticks. Then do a full body tick check, using a mirror if necessary, looking and feeling everywhere for attached ticks.
- Proper and timely tick removal can prevent disease transmission. (see below)
If you find a tick, a rash, or any new illnesses during the first several months after exposure, you should notify your doctor.
Ticks can be carried into your home by pets. You can find more information on our Veterinary page about animals and tick-borne diseases.
Birds are also known to carry ticks on them. These ticks may be dropped off around bird feeders. It is important to keep bird feeders away from children’s play areas.
DEET is the gold standard for tick repellents. If a bug repellent doesn’t say it repels ticks, then you cannot assume that it does. It is recommended to use between 23% and 35% DEET preparations. Less DEET is not considered effective enough and more is not more effective. Using DEET on clothing is not effective since it must mix with the heat and oils from your skin to produce a repellent vapor barrier that is distasteful to ticks and masks your body’s carbon dioxide.
There are newer chemical repellents on the market that are proving to be as effective as DEET.
Picaridin 20% is an effective alternative to DEET
Avon’s Bug Guard Plus Expedition IR3535 is also as effective as DEET if used in the 20% strength. As of 2014 you can find other brands of repellent with IR3535 as the active ingredient.
For those who wish to use “natural” products, the website below may be helpful to determine effectiveness of “natural” products and how often you must reapply to maintain effectiveness. This website can also help you determine the best repellent for you and your family. Information on the safety and effectiveness of tick repellents can also be found on this same site.
Permethrin is an insecticide, will kill ticks and is used on clothing and other fabric items. It is NOT used as a repellent on skin. You can pre-treat your clothes, hat, shoes, neckerchief, tent, and other gear prior to going into a high-risk area. This chemical works on the fabric after drying and not on skin. Different permethrin preparations have differing lengths of effectiveness. Some home use preparations last through 5 or 6 washings and some commercial preparations last through 45 washings. InsectShield® is one commercial brand. Follow directions given on the product purchased for the maximum effectiveness. Permethrin has been used extensively by the military for troop protection. It is neurotoxic to cats and treated clothing should not be left in an area where a cat has access to them. It may be effective to treat scout clothing, gardening clothes, hunting, golfing, and hiking clothes.
In order to kill ticks on your clothing, put your clothes in the dryer on high heat for 20-40 minutes. If you were to put the clothes in the washer, you will have clean ticks, but they are not likely to die. Ticks may survive the washer but not likely the dryer.
Grooming your yard in a way that is unfriendly to ticks can effectively reduce the numbers you have in the immediate area. Some easy things to do are:
Keep your grass mown, short and dry
Clear the leaf litter from around the house and shrubs
Move the wood pile away from the house
Limit bird feeding stations to areas as far from your house as possible
Keep the play area in an open, sunny, dry area of your yard
Create a barrier around the perimeter of your lawn at the edge of the woods as described in the Tick Management Handbook.
There are other considerations such as the use of pesticides and acaricides that are best discussed with a professional who is familiar with the regulations in your area.
The most comprehensive guide to landscape considerations is the Tick Management Handbook by Kirby C. Stafford III, Ph.D. of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. This book is available online at
If you do find a tick attached to someone—DO NOT PANIC. Removing a tick well takes a cool head and a steady hand. Use fine, pointed tweezers and grasp the tick below the body, around the mouthparts, as close to the skin as possible and pull steadily, straight up and out. Do not twist the tick. It will come out with a “POP”. Wash the wound well. Let your doctor know.
- Put any soaps, ointments (Vaseline), alcohol, or heat on the tick
- Squeeze the body of the tick
Removing a tick intact reduces the chance of transmitting any infection the tick may carry.
- Place the tick in a baggie noting the date of removal for identification or testing at a later time
- Mark the bite area
- If there is a rash already, draw a pen mark around the outer edge
- Mark you calendar
- Report any illness or rashes to your doctor
If you find a tick crawling around or attached to an animal and don’t need the tick for further testing, we encourage you to send your tick to the Maine Medical Center Research Institute (MMCRI) for identification, state of engorgement, and to be counted on the state of Maine map. (See below.)
The tick submission form for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension for tick identification-not tick disease testing is here.
Maine Medical Center Research Institute Vector-borne Disease Laboratory Deer Tick Submissions 1989-2010
Courtesy Map from MMCRI Lyme Research Lab
Other Prevention guidelines
Lyme Disease Awareness and Prevention by Elizabeth L. Maloney, MD