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Prevention of tick-borne illness hinges on preventing ticks from attaching and obtaining a blood meal from individuals. This can be accomplished by avoiding tick habitat, using personal protection methods, and changing the environment to reduce the presence of ticks.
Adult ticks prefer high grass, low brush, or shrubs, where they can come in contact with a mammal (human, deer, dog, and etc.) for their next blood meal. Tick larval and nymph stages prefer shady, moist ground litter, stone walls, woodpiles, and etc. where they can contact a small rodent, mammal, or a sitting human for their next blood meal. Adult ticks perch on leaves of low brush or on grass stems awaiting the passing of a potential host. They recognize approaching humans or other mammals by movement, body heat, and carbon dioxide from exhaled breath. As the potential host moves by the tick, it crawls onto the host and proceeds to look for a place for attachment and feeding.
If tick-infested areas cannot be avoided because of work or recreational activities, there are combinations of prevention steps that can be taken to reduce the possibility that ticks will reach the skin and attach for sufficient time to transmit the disease. Recommendations for personal protection are:
1. Wear shoes that cover the entire foot (no sandals), socks, and long pants. Long- sleeved shirts are also desirable.
2. Use insect repellents with DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-touamide, or N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) on clothing and skin.
DEET is available in various concentrations from a number of manufacturers. Concentrations of DEET between 10 percent and 30 percent are adequate for most occasions. A concentration of 10 percent protects for up to 2 hours, while a 30 percent concentration will protect for up to 5 hours. Concentrations above 50 percent do not increase length of protection.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, DEET solutions should not be used on children less than 2 months of age. Concentrations above 30% should not be used on infants and children.
When using DEET always follow the manufacturers’ recommendations appearing on the product label. Those recommendations include the following:
For additional guidance on use of the use of insect repellents, click here.
3. Apply permethrin to clothing or mosquito nets. Unlike DEET, permethrin is an insecticide that kills insects that come into contact with it. Permethrin kills or stuns insects that touch treated fabric. Permethrin is available under several brand names.
When using permethrin follow the manufacturers’ label directions closely when treating fabric. It will adhere to fabric through several washings, and remains effective without harming or staining the fabric.
Permethrin is biodegradable and does not accumulate in the environment, but it is toxic to fish and other aquatic life and must not be disposed of in a manner that would contaminate waterways.
Recommendations for use:
4. Conduct a thorough body check for ticks at the end of the day. A warm soapy shower will help remove ticks, but a visual search of the body is essential to ensure all ticks have been removed. The larval and nymph ticks are much smaller than adult ticks and can easily be missed, especially in hair.
If a tick is attached to the skin, it can be removed with either tweezers or forceps by grasping the tick by the head, right at skin level. Remove the tick by pulling firmly and steadily upward. Ticks should not be removed with bare fingers, but if tweezers or forceps are not available, tissue paper or a paper towel can be used to prevent the passing of any possible infection.
Populations of deer ticks, as well as other ticks, can be reduced around the home with minor landscaping changes that reduce shade and moisture. Landscaping efforts that have shown to be effective are:
In severe cases of tick infestation in residential areas, a single application of insecticide on the lawn or in other tick infected areas can be very effective in reducing the tick population. Prior to taking this step, individuals should discuss the appropriate insecticide and the application rate with a licensed pesticide applicator.