BERGEN COUNTY, N.J.-- Just because it's fall doesn't mean ticks -- and the risk of Lyme disease -- disappear.
Nor should you think you're off the hook just because you're not the outdoors type. Simply walking through the grass to the mailbox can put you at risk.
So explains Debra Adler-Klein, M.D., a board-certified internist and infectious disease expert at NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Westchester.
"Many people mistakenly believe that tick season ends at Labor Day, but in fact, the danger of tick bites extends well into the fall and even the winter if the weather stays warm," she said.
The combination of a mild winter with an unusually large population of mice led to an increased number of ticks this spring and summer, and it will likely continue into the fall.
Dr. Adler-Klein is also seeing a spike in other tick-borne illnesses such as anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Here are some of her prevention strategies:
- Avoid wooded areas and be vigilant about ticks even if you’re not the outdoorsy type. If you are in grassy or wooded areas with ticks, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Tuck long pants into socks. Wear shoes, not flip-flops.
- When you come indoors after being in areas where ticks may be living, do full-body tick checks on yourself and your children. Ticks like warm, moist areas of your body, including the groin, behind the knee, armpits and around hairlines.
- Shower within a couple of hours of coming indoors to wash off any ticks. Put your clothing and outerwear in the dryer for 10 minutes. Super-heating will kill ticks.
- Mow your grass regularly. Consider putting wood chips or gravel around the perimeter of your property, about two to three feet deep. When mice run across the uneven, bumpy terrain, about 50 percent of the ticks they are carrying will fall off.
- Do tick checks on your pets. Try to keep them off areas where you sleep. When removing a tick from a dog, wear gloves or use a paper towel to avoid coming in contact with any blood, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Tick vaccines for pets are now available.
- Consider having your yard sprayed with chemicals that contain pyrethrins and other compounds that help kill ticks. There are also organic, less toxic sprays made of peppermint, lemon and citrus oils.
- Birds can carry ticks, too, so you may want to move bird feeders away from the house and outdoor decks.
If you get a tick bite, here is what she recommends:
- If you are bitten by a tick, remove it promptly.
- Use a clean pair of tweezers to grasp the mouthparts of the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull it off in a steady upward motion. Avoid breaking the tick and releasing its blood.
- Clean the bite area thoroughly with soap and water, rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. For some people, the bite area will become an itchy red welt right away or within a day or two – this does not mean you have Lyme disease.
- Write down the date and location of the bite in case you develop Lyme disease symptoms later. Your medical provider will want to know when you were bitten.
- Watch for signs of the classic bulls-eye rash that may develop around the bite, but note that not everyone with Lyme develops this rash. The rash doesn’t hurt and there is no itching or burning sensation with it. If you have the bulls-eye rash, you have Lyme and should seek treatment right away.
- Don’t panic. It usually takes at least 24 hours for a tick to transmit Lyme and other diseases to humans. So if you removed the tick quickly, you are not likely to develop Lyme. If you have Lyme, it is generally treatable.
- Depending on your symptoms, your medical provider may want to do a blood test to look for Lyme disease or other tick-borne infections. Three antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease: doxycycline, amoxicillin and cefuroxime axetil. Doxycycline has the added benefit of also treating ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis.
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